Kabul Synagogue showing the Bimah/pulpit; Close up of the Bimah with prayer and charity box; Modim d'Rabanan, prayer of gratefulness, said silently during the Amidah prayer; A couple of prayer inscrip
I was working in 2005 on the Afghanistan National Parliament and Provincial Council Elections as part of the Joint Electoral Management Body, a joint organisation between the UN and the Afghan Government. A friend of mine, mentioned that she was going to celebrate the Passover Seder, or dinner, with some other friends a the Kabul Synagogue, with the last remaining Jew in the country, Zebulon Simatov.
Well, I was quite surprised, as firstly, I didn't know that my friend was Jewish, and we had worked together for over a year already. I had heard of this 'Last Jew' in Afghanistan, and had known that there were two of them previously, but the older of them had passed away recently. I was definitely up for an adventure, so I gladly accepted the invitation!
My friend told me to meet her at her guesthouse, which was around the corner from mine, and then we would head to the synagogue, with some others she had assembled for the occasion. She mentioned that I was in for a real treat, as Zebulon was quite a character and loved company.
Now, what was most surprising, is that when I got to my friend's place, I expected to be driving to the synagogue. She indicated that it was a short walk from her house. We began to walk back towards my own guesthouse, and I was a little intrigued, as I thought that I knew the neighbourhood quite well. To my astonishment, the synagogue was directly across from my guesthouse, and in fact, my bedroom window looked out at it!
Upon arrival at the synagogue, we were met by Zeb's friend Shirgul and were ushured into his reception room. we exchanged some pleasantries and the usual gracious Afghan greetings. After we settled in, Zeb asked if we would like to see the synagogue, which I am sure that he had given a few tours of already!
Having grown up in a small Ashkenazi community in Canada, I was used to a modest synagogue, and during my work in Sarajevo, I regularly attended Sabbath evening services, so I thought that I had seen some interesting locations. Well, the Kabul Synagogue was quite austere, but it did have some interesting and familiar touches.
The Bimah, or platform where the Torah is read from and prayers are normally lead from was there, as was the charity donation box, which is in every synagogue. I found it interesting that everything was in Hebrew, and that I could read most of it. Even some of the prayers were familiar. Zeb could not help himself showing the Shofar, or ceremonial ram's horn, that is used to celebrate the Jewish New Year and mark the end of the Day of Atonement.
After the tour, we were exposed to an equally interesting Passover Seder dinner, complete with the traditional Afghan ceremony of being beaten with green onions. I am still not sure exactly what it represented, but it was the most lively Seder that I have been to yet!