Now, Afghanistan's last Jew flees to Afghanistan

Zebulon Simentov, the only remaining member of a centuries-old Afghan community, labelled himself the "last Jew" of Afghanistan for years.

Now, Afghanistan's last Jew flees to Afghanistan

He held court in Kabul’s last remaining synagogue and charged journalists for interviews. After the Taliban took power, he fled the country for Istanbul last month.

It seems he wasn't the last.

Tova Moradi, Simentov’s distant cousin, was born in Kabul. She lived there for more than a month until Simentov left in September. Moradi, her children, and almost two dozen grandchildren fled Afghanistan in fear for their safety. The escape was orchestrated by prominent Jewish philanthropists, activists, and an Israeli aid group.

Moradi, a refugee from Afghanistan, said that she loved her country and was very proud of it. However, her humble quarters in Golem, Albania, where the beach resorts were converted into temporary homes for around 2,000 refugees, forced her to leave.

Moradi, aged 83, was the eldest of 10 children who were born to a Kabul Jewish family. She fled her home at 16 and married a Muslim man. Although she never converted to Islam and kept some Jewish traditions, it was not a secret that she was Jewish in her neighbourhood.

"She never denied her Judaism. She just got married to save her life because you cannot be safe in Afghanistan as a young girl," Moradi's daughter Khorshid told the AP from Canada, where she and her three siblings moved after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in 1990s.

Moradi stated that she kept in touch with her family despite friction over her decision not to marry outside of the faith. Her siblings and parents fled Afghanistan in the 1960s, 1980s. Her parents are buried in Jerusalem's Har Menuhot Cemetery. Many of her siblings and their descendants still live in Israel.

She had not spoken to her sisters for over 50 years, and she was only able to speak with them this week.

"Yesterday, after 60 years, I was able to see my sisters, nieces, and nephews through a video conference. "We spoke for hours," Moradi stated. "I was so happy to see their children, and they met my own," Moradi said.

Khorshid stated that they said "it's almost like she's back from the grave."

Moradi tried to keep a low profile during the Taliban's first rule period, 1996-2001. Moradi risked her life hiding Rabbi Isaak Levy, one of few remaining Afghan Jews, to keep herself out of harm's way.

Simentov and Levi lived for many years together in the Kabul synagogue. However, they were known to be fierce enemies and often fought. They were usually left alone by the Taliban, but during one dispute the Taliban intervened and arrested them, beat them and confiscated the synagogue’s ancient Torah scroll. This scroll disappeared after the Taliban were removed from power.

"Isaak visited our home during Taliban rule and we kept him hidden for a month," Moradi told her grandson, who assisted her in telling the story. They claimed that he was a Muslim when the Taliban arrived to search for him. She prepared to smuggle him out of the country but his health declined and he passed away in 2005. Simentov stated that he was glad to have him gone.

Levi's remains were taken to Israel for burial. Moradi kept his old passport as a memento.

Moradi and her family were afraid for their lives when the Taliban seized power in August, just weeks before the U.S. had completed its withdrawal following 20 years of war.

After decades of conflict, the Taliban have promised to restore security and peace to the country. However, the radical Islamic State group is targeting those who don't share its extreme ideology.

Khorshid claimed that a relative had met Joseph Friedberg, an Orthodox Jewish businessman from Toronto, years ago. He sought assistance from Friedberg after the fall of Kabul.

Friedberg stated that "he came to me and told me they were going to kill mother," Friedberg claimed that he reached out for IsraAid in Israel, a non-governmental humanitarian organization.

Yotam Polizer, CEO of IsraAid, said that the organization has helped many people after disasters like the 2011 tsunami in Japan and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

He stated that the two-month-long effort to rescue them was supported by Afghan diplomats, Israeli President Isaac Herzog's Office, and Jewish businessmen such as Israeli-Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adam and billionaire Alexander Mashkevich, an Israeli-Kazakh billionaire. They also tapped into contacts in Canada, Canada, and Israel to facilitate their escape.

Mashkevich stated that he "involved every my friends, because this was very difficult."

The Israeli presidency's office declined comment.

Khorshid stated, "We are so grateful that they are safe now." "I have not slept at night for the past two months since the Taliban tookover."

Moradi, six of her family members, are now in Albania. Another 25 relatives, who were also in Albania, made it to Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, earlier in this week. They are hoping to get passage to Canada so she can reunite with her children.

She expressed her hope that she would be able to visit Israel and see her siblings, as well as pray at the graves her parents in Jerusalem. She could not reach her family in Israel for comment.

Polizer stated that they still need to get them to their destination. "We are worried that they will be stuck in limbo."

Adams, an Israeli-Canadian businessman said that he had appealed to Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada's Immigration Minister on behalf of Moradi to obtain visas for his family. However, September's Canadian election hampered efforts.

Adams stated, "We are in close touch and trying to put forth the appropriate amount of urgency when describing their plight."

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