Efforts initially put toward evacuating the man described as the “last Jew in Afghanistan” have instead helped dozens escape from the country’s capital following the Taliban takeover after the man refused to leave, according to a report.
An attempt to extract Zebulon Simantov had been underway up until Rabbi Moshe Margaretten — president of the Tzedek Association, a nonprofit dedicated to humanitarian cases that has been helping rescue high-risk individuals out of Afghanistan — got word that the 62-year-old did not want to flee, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported earlier this month.
“He didn’t give a get, a divorce, to his wife; she lives in Israel. And because of that, he’s scared to go to Israel,” Margaretten told the outlet. “That’s a very fun story. And he wants money.”
Moti Kahana, an Israeli-American businessman who is working with Margaretten to extract people from Afghanistan, previously told The New York Post that Simantov wanted $50,000 as a condition of his departure, which put a wrench in their plans.
When Simantov refused to leave, the rescue mission then pivoted toward helping others such as the national women’s soccer team get out of the country.
“Moti told me, ‘My people there on the ground are telling me there is a group of soccer players, and they are very scared for their lives,’ ” Margaretten recalled to JTA. “They believe they will be a big target for the Taliban to get killed. Maybe you want to get involved to save their lives.”
Margaretten said his team was able to raise $80,000 within a day. By last Wednesday, they were coordinating the extraction of 23 people — including four soccer players, a judge, a prosecutor and their families — Kahana said.
Another 23 people were extracted by Friday, according to Kahana.
As for Simantov, Margaretten “told Moti Kahana, ‘Please have someone to watch on him.’ He doesn’t want to leave but we’ll have some people keeping an eye on him that no one shouldn’t harm him,” according to JTA.
Simantov had been living in Kabul’s only remaining synagogue as its caretaker. He became the property’s sole resident when its other caretaker, Issac Levy, died in 2005, The Los Angeles Times reported in 2009.
“I’m the only Jew in Afghanistan,” he told the newspaper then. “It’s a big responsibility. Yes, I wish there was a larger community. But I keep kosher and maintain the tradition.”
If you would like to support those in need during the upheaval in Afghanistan, consider:
* Donating to UNICEF to aid Afghans in the country or
* Donating to the International Refugee Assistance Project to help those fleeing.