Last Jew in Afghanistan faces ruin as kebabs fail to sell

Tue Nov 12, 2013 3:22am EST
 
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By Jessica Donati and Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) - Zabulon Simintov always removes his kippah, the skullcap worn by Jewish men, before entering his cafe in a dilapidated building that also houses Afghanistan's last synagogue.

"Let me take off my cap, otherwise people will think something bad about me," Simintov said cheerfully as he descended grime-caked stairs to the ground-floor cafe.

In his 50s, Simintov is the last known Afghan Jew to remain in the country. He has become something of a celebrity over the years and his rivalry with the next-to-last Jew, who died in 2005, inspired a play.

Mindful of Afghanistan's extremely conservative Muslim culture, Simintov tries not to advertise his identity to protect the Balkh Bastan or Ancient Balkh kebab cafe he opened four years ago, naming it after a northern Afghan province.

"All food here is prepared by Muslims," he said.

Now the cafe, neat and shiny, faces closure because kebabs are not selling well - largely because of deteriorating security in Kabul that has made people frightened to eat out or visit the city.

Simintov used to rely on hotel catering orders but even these have dried up as foreign troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, further weakening security and investment.

"Hotels used to order food for 400 to 500 people. Four or five stoves were busy from afternoon to evening," he said. "I plan to close my restaurant next March and rent its space."   Continued...

 
Zabulon Simintov, an Afghan Jew, prepares for prayers at his residence in Kabul November 5, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani