Zebulon Simentov fled Afghanistan after the Taliban tookover and landed in Turkey Sunday. His rescuers believe this is his final stop before heading to Israel.
This concludes a week-long adventure that saw him flee his homeland and undergo a videoconference divorce process to make sure he doesn't get into trouble with Israeli authorities.
A husband must agree to allow his wife to divorce him, which is a requirement of Jewish religious law. This was something Simentov had been refusing to do for years. Simentov was facing legal action in Israel where his ex-wife resides. He finally gave in to the pressure last month during a Zoom call that was supervised by Australian Rabbinic authorities.
Part of the proceedings were viewed by The Associated Press. After receiving assurances from Israel that he would not be in trouble, Simentov signs a document known as a "get" during the chaotic discussion.
Rabbi Moshe Margaretten of the non-profit TzedekAssociation, who funded the trip, said that Simentov had been living in peace and quiet in Pakistan for the past few weeks. This Islamic country does not have diplomatic relations to Israel.
His group considered bringing Simentov over to the U.S., but decided Israel was a better choice due to difficulties in obtaining a U.S. visa and Simentov's many relatives in Israel, including five sisters and two daughters.
Margaretten, who has assisted in the evacuation of several other Afghans from Afghanistan, said that Zebulon Simentov's escape was a relief. "Zebulon was in danger in Afghanistan."
Rabbi Mendy Simentov, the chairman of the Alliance of Rabbis Islamic States, was at the Istanbul airport to greet him.
He stated that he was going to make Simentov an appointment at the Israeli consulate Monday in order to facilitate his entry into Israel. Any Jew can apply for Israeli citizenship under Israel's "Law of Return."
Chitrik stated that he had worked for many months with Margaretten and other volunteers to get Simentov from Afghanistan. He said, "I'm glad this issue is finally being put to rest."
Simentov lived in a Kabul synagogue that was in disrepair. He kept kosher, prayed in Hebrew and maintained his faith throughout decades of war, as the country's centuries-old Jewish community began to shrink. The Taliban's August takeover seems to have been the final straw.
Moti Kahana is an Israeli-American businessman and runs a private company that coordinated the evacuation for Margaretten. He said that Simentov wasn't worried about the Taliban as he had previously lived under their control. He claimed that he was persuaded to leave by the Islamic State group's threats and the pressure of his neighbors who had been rescued along with him.
Caves in northern Afghanistan contain Hebrew manuscripts that indicate that there was a flourishing Jewish community at least 1000 years ago. Afghanistan was home to around 40,000 Jews in the late 19th century. Many of these were Persian Jews fleeing persecution in Iran. After 1948's creation, the community began to decline.
Simentov stated that the Soviet invasion of 1979 resulted in the expulsion of the last Jewish families.
He shared the building that housed the synagogue with Isaak Levi for several years, but they were a bitter rival and feuded under the Taliban's previous regime from 1996 to 2001.
Simentov accused Levi of spying and theft. Simentov responded by accusing Levi that he had rented rooms to prostitutes. This was an accusation that he refuted, The New York Times reported 2002. Both men were beaten and arrested by the Taliban. They also confiscated the synagogue’s Torah scroll, which was missing following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
Simentov stated that he was glad to have him go after his 80-year old housemate died in 2005.
Reporters who paid exorbitant fees to Simentov for interviews over the years found him a handsome man who loved whiskey. He also had a pet partridge, and he watched Afghan TV. He was a strict follower of Jewish dietary rules and owned a kebab shop.
He was born in Herat, the western city in which he was raised in 1959. He always believed that Afghanistan was his home.
Like other Islamic militants, the Taliban are hostile to Israel, but they tolerated Israel's tiny Jewish community during their previous rule.