The Last Grotesque Stereotype in Afghanistan

MSNBC, it would seem, is becoming an equal-opportunity offender – it has started with women after the charming comparison of Keith Olbermann to an abusive boyfriend, and continues with an article on the last Jewish man in Afghanistan, so laden with “greedy Jew” dogwhistles it’s hard for any audible frequencies to get through.

“Who do you work for?” Simantov asked straightaway.

“NBC News,” I answered proudly.

“So can you give me lots of money,” he said, his tone turning a question into a blunt demand.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“Did you bring me whiskey?”

The interview, which I had looked forward to ever since I received the assignment to visit Kabul, quickly became an embarrassment.

Aaaaand right out of the gate – what a typical Jew! First thing he asks about is money! No mention of what the interviewer makes reference to later in the article, about corruption and bribery being necessary essentially to survive, no real mention of how being a Jew in a Taliban-run country for years might have warped him beyond a single sentence devoted to that when the guy in question mentioned “being in jail for six months”.

“I bring greetings from a friend of yours in Israel,” I said.

“That bastard,” Simantov said, spitting out a nut, “he’s no friend of mine!”

I knew that Isaac Levy, a Jew who lived in another room in the synagogue, making this odd couple the last two Jews in Afghanistan, had died three years ago. I expressed sympathy.

“Huh,” Simantov answered, “I was glad when he died. I didn’t speak to him for years. He tried to get me killed.”

Greedy, bloodthirsty and ruthless! No mention in the article, of course, of whether or not the guy’s story was true, just an anecdote bookended by a sentence on the history of Jews in Afghanistan. After all, why pursue the truth when there’s a caricature to be made!

Still, I persevered, and asked him to show me the synagogue. We put on our shoes and he led me to a room at the end of the corridor. It was quite a large room facing the Haaron Hakodesh, a cupboard containing the holy Torah scroll. He opened its small wooden doors. It was almost empty. I knew the scroll was believed to have been stolen by the Taliban.

So here’s a guy who spent months in a Taliban prison, is the only Jew in a hostile and war-torn country previously ruled by a regime undoubtedly hostile to everyone but themselves, has no Torah scroll, and all the author can do is dress him down, in print, for maybe acting a little like someone living in a war-zone and more obssessed with living from day-to-day than his own religious observance?

What a disappointment. But then I thought, we’re in Afghanistan, where at roadblocks police routinely demand a bribe and “cigarette money” has always greased the wheels. Foreign aid workers complain that corruption is everywhere and backhanders are a universal irritant.

There was no reason my coreligionist should be different from his countrymen. After all, he had no job beyond maintaining the synagogue, and as he pointed out bluntly: “You make money out of my story, why shouldn’t you pay me?”

Still, the last Jew in Afghanistan wasn’t what I had expected. Maybe I was naïve.

Oh, there’s that understanding I was looking for! I take it all back.

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2 Responses

  1. “I had expected a soulful man, and found this clown.”

    Damn.

    I really, really hate it when Jews play the stereotype game on other Jews. As if to show everyone that they’re completely different from the greedy, nasty Jews you hear about.

  2. Ah, yes, the Exceptional Jew! There was a book I had written by David Mamet about Jewish identity (I think) that I wish I still had which had a long chapter about that, but unfortunately I can’t remember specifically the thrust of it.

    It had to do, I think, with the problem of denying one’s Jewish heritage to gain acceptance into leftist movements (kind of like that post you had), by climbing over the shoulders of other Jews and denigrating them in the process. I really loathe that behavior too, actually.

    Now I remember, it was called The Wicked Son.

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