Kabul by Neil Simon?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 5 08:13:52 MST 2001


The last two Jews in Kabul fight like cat and dog
By Marcus Warren
(Filed: 04/12/2001)

AFGHANISTAN has suffered more than its fair share of feuding, but few of
its vendettas have seemed quite so pointless to outsiders as that being
fought by the last two Jews in Kabul.

Yitzhak Levy, 60, and Zebolan Simanto, 41, live in the same courtyard on
the same city street. Each looks after his own synagogue, from which the
other is banned.

Apart from being Jewish, all that they have in common is their explosive
hatred for one another. Even living as Jews together under the Taliban
did not reconcile them. If anything, it only offered them new
opportunities to denounce, inform on, terrorise and generally do each
other down.

"He is an old fool whose brains do not work properly," Mr Simanto said
of his enemy yesterday. "He is a donkey who thinks only of himself. I
wouldn't go into his flat if I were you: it stinks."

Mr Levy was equally vituperative about his rival and nemesis. "He is
arrogant and ruthless," he said. "He is making my life a misery."
Nothing is sacred in the campaign of spite and loathing the men have
waged against each other for the past three years. On at least one
occasion they came to blows in one of the synagogues.

"Yes, I knocked him down, with my fist, right here," Mr Simanto smirked
during a tour of his synagogue. "He had sneaked in and was eavesdropping
on my conversations."

Mr Levy complained that his enemy had punched him. But during an
interview yesterday he seemed more concerned about Mr Simanto's
overhearing him.

Three times he burst into the corridor outside his home to check that we
were alone. The casus belli has been the last Torah - a scroll
containing the Pentateuch - belonging to the last Jews in the Afghan
capital. It is a 500-year-old masterpiece handwritten on deer hide and
worth &pound1.3 million - or so the two men believe.

Both claim ownership of the scroll, but neither is likely to lay his
hands on it soon. The dispute between the men grew so intractable that
the Taliban confiscated the Torah and hid it in the vaults of the
interior ministry.

Worse, both men were thrown into jail, where for eight hellish days they
were forced to share a cell with several bemused Afghan Muslims looking
on. Spells in prison were a regular hazard for the men during the
Taliban era.

But neither accuses the Taliban of persecuting them for their faith.
They blame each other for ending up behind bars. "He told the Taliban
that I was an Israeli agent," said Mr Levy, a frail figure in an
astrakhan hat. "They arrested me and beat me up. It was all his fault."

Mr Simanto, who favours a white skullcap, said: "He was always going to
the Taliban to inform on me. He accused me of trying to smuggle the
Torah to Israel." The suggestion that the two men, the last survivors of
a community based in Afghanistan for 800 years, should have settled
their differences for the sake of their religion is met with scorn.

Both have family in Israel but neither is in a rush to emigrate, afraid
that the other will take over the courtyard and lay claim to the Torah
in his absence.

While the block's sole residents continue squabbling, the two synagogues
on the top floor, one for each of them, are covered with dust, their
fittings and furniture slowly falling apart. The men's most recent
quarrel concerns Mr Levy's supposed conversion to Islam, an allegation
made by Mr Simanto but which Mr Levy hotly denies.

Even Mr Levy's wife, in Israel with their five children for the past 15
years, has been embroiled in the controversy over her husband's faith.
"He wrote a letter to my wife in Beersheba and told her that I was now a
Muslim," a distraught Mr Levy alleged. "Now she wants a divorce."

Louis Proyect
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