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May 10th, 2010
11:32 AM ET

The last Jew of Kabul

Zablon Simintov is always guaranteed the best seat in his local synagogue - in fact, the only seat.

He is believed to be the last Jew in Afghanistan and says he has no intention of leaving, even to join his wife and two teenage daughters in Israel.

"My family call me all the time and say, 'Come here, you're the last Jew in Afghanistan, what are you doing there?' " he says.

Simintov lives alone and prays alone but insists there is nothing lonely about his life.

"They are all like my brothers here," he said of his fellow Afghans. His mobile phone frequently rings as we talk to him, and his Muslim neighbors stop by for a chat.

A Jewish community that has lasted hundreds of years in Afghanistan has shrunk to a community of one.

He is in sole charge of the rundown synagogue in central Kabul, which looks like any other building from the outside. Only on closer inspection do you notice the railings in the pattern of the Star of David.

The windows are blown in from a recent bombing, and the building could desperately do with a lick of paint. But it is a functioning synagogue, and Simintov sometimes welcomes European and American Jews during Jewish holidays.

All donations are welcome, he points out. He relies heavily on financial help from sympathetic Jews around the world. There is no help from the Afghan government.

Life has improved for Simintov in Kabul since Taliban rule ended with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He tells CNN he was arrested four times by the Taliban and claims he was beaten while in custody. He refers to the Taliban as "a problem who interfered in everybody's business."

The only time he left Kabul for fear of his safety, however, was in 1992 and 1993, at the start of Afghanistan's civil war.

Twenty-five years after first moving to Afghanistan, Simintov says it is God's will that he stay even though his family life inevitably suffers. Proudly showing me photos of his two daughters, 16 and 14, he admits he hasn't seen them since his last - and only - visit to Israel in 1998.

As Simintov blows dust off some of his numerous prayer books, it's a reminder that years ago at this synagogue there was a definite need for more than one.

Read the story on CNN.com

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Houses of worship • Judaism

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.