Matzos from NY help last Kabul Jew keep Passover

NEW YORK Wed Mar 21, 2007 4:27pm EDT

Zebolan Simanto, the last Jew in Afghanistan, at his residence in Kabul, January 26, 2005. Every spring Simanto receives a care package from New York City. Simanto uses the matzos, grape juice and oil sent by New York's Afghan Jewish community to conduct the Seder, a meal eaten on the first evening of the Passover holiday to commemorate the enslavement of the Jews in ancient Egypt and their later escape into freedom. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Zebolan Simanto, the last Jew in Afghanistan, at his residence in Kabul, January 26, 2005. Every spring Simanto receives a care package from New York City. Simanto uses the matzos, grape juice and oil sent by New York's Afghan Jewish community to conduct the Seder, a meal eaten on the first evening of the Passover holiday to commemorate the enslavement of the Jews in ancient Egypt and their later escape into freedom.

Credit: Reuters/Ahmad Masood

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Every spring Zebolan Simanto, the last Jew in Afghanistan, receives a care package from New York City.

Simanto uses the matzos, grape juice and oil sent by New York's Afghan Jewish community to conduct the Seder, a meal eaten on the first evening of the Passover holiday to commemorate the enslavement of the Jews in ancient Egypt and their later escape into freedom.

Jack Abraham, the president of Congregation Anshei Shalom, the only Afghan synagogue in the United States, says he started sending the Passover packages to Kabul in 2003 after hearing that Simanto had no matzo for Passover.

Abraham says he sends the packages "to keep our presence in a land we were in for over a millennium."

He bought the food from a kosher grocery in New York's Queens borough and sent it by courier UPS. The 60-pound (132-kg) package cost about $650 to ship, he said.

He plans to send this year's package within the week to arrive in time for Passover, which begins on April 2.

Until the middle of the 20th century there were about 10,000 Jews living in Afghanistan but all but Simanto, 45, have fled because of religious persecution.

When the Taliban fell in 2001, Simanto and one other Jew were found in living in a crumbling building in Kabul, apparently locked in an intractable dispute over a 500-year-old Torah that had been taken by the government in 1999.

Following the death of his elderly neighbor in 2005, Simanto is believed to be the last member of Afghanistan's Jewish community.

Abraham, who keeps in contact with Simanto, recalled a home video of the synagogue Simanto uses for prayers. The floors were cracked, the windows were taped up and walls were black from smoke.

"I said, 'Wait a minute,'" Abraham recalled. "'This is the synagogue my father helped build?"'

He sent money to have the synagogue repaired and its door fixed so Simanto would not have to climb through the window.

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