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For reasons as uncertain as they may be unknown, my old blog, Oppenheim Arts & Letters, has been freezing my copy of Google Chrome (but no one else’s, so support tells me).  Rich in content, if then a bit younger also, I sometimes like to reference old pieces and can’t do from the front end.  Perhaps, as here by copying and pasting the base HTML file, I will rescue some of them.

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CNN ran the above this past Monday morning [1], and it’s worth a look for the treasuring of the prayer books alone, one among them that may date back 400 years.

Not to conflate this piece with the story of the expulstion of 800,000 Jews from Arab lands in the wake of Israel’s creation, this story runs opposite expulsion: implied by Wikipedia [2], the majority of the 5,000 Jews present in Afghanistan at the creation of modern Israel in 1948 migrated to both Israel and the United States in 1951, leaving a community of about 300 souls behind them.

The web site Afghanistan Old Photos notes this of the old community:

The Jews of Afghanistan have a history of 2,500 years in this country. They arrived in this area after the Babylonian Exile and the Persian conquest. The first traces concerning the Jewish population of Afghanistan are dated from the seventh century. They concern the Jews living the town of Ghor. The discovery of a Jewish cemetery in this city in 1946 testifies to the existence of a large and flourishing Jewish community. The earliest tombstones date from 752-753 and the latest date from 1012-1249. The inscriptions on the tombstones are in Hebrew, Aramaic and Judeo-Persian, a language with elements of medieval Persian and containing Hebrew-Aramaic components, written in Hebrew script, and spoken by the members of the local Jewish community. [3]

The scourge reducing Afghanistan’s Jewish centers: Genghis Khan, 1222 CE.

Resupply: courtesy of Russian persecution, Czarist and Communist.  Early 20th  Century population estimate for the Jews of Afghanistan: 40,000.  Mysteriously, however, that figure seems to have fallen to 5,000 by 1948.

To the left, a Wikimedia Commons photograph of the Jewish Cemetary of Herat, Afghanistan.

Photographs of a delapidated “Yu Aw Synagogue”, Herat, live on the web at this address: http://www.isjm.org/country/afgpg/30.html.

While working for an NGO on the tail of the Soviet Invasion, Anette Ittig, contributing to the International Survey of Jewish Monuments, notes, “During the course of surveying the city’s Islamic buildings, I came upon two artifacts with Hebrew inscriptions in the storage room of a tile manufactory, and this discovery was the catalyst for the following preliminary survey of Herat’s Jewish monuments.” [3]

Without the contemporary arsenal of oral histories, photographs, and videos, and this unless one chooses to hunt and solicit such from the present generation, we cannot see those who left in their wake the four synagogues and the Jewish bath of Herat,  but they are there in the near record of artifacts, an archeology, an ethnographic forensics, close in time.

Ittig goes on to comment:

“The adaptive use of these buildings mirrors the cultural transition which the former mahalla-yi musahiya has undergone over the past twenty years. The Hamman-e Yahudiha now serves the Muslim males of the quarter. The Mulla Samuel synagogue is currently used as a maktab, or primary school, for boys. The building formerly known as the Gul synagogue has been converted to the Belal Mosque. The once magnificent Mulla Ashur/Mulla Garji building which, when intact, featured elaborate painted stucco decoration, lies in ruins, the result of disuse and neglect.”

What country does not have ruins?

That some may be Jewish ruins, the discarded habitations and artifacts of once suitable lives–suitable enough for constructing synagogues and baths–we must accept.  At the same time, we may wish to keep in mind those whose actions among generations near and far proved the cause of so much death, displacement, and sorrow.  For the Jews of Afghanistan, even if less than one remains, certainly the collective and universal memory will remain forever of the ravages of Genghis Khan, the venality of Czarist Russia and its pogroms, the Soviet system and its capricious and spiritually sterile autocracy, each a power whose day has passed and whose own generations have been far transformed.

In the sidebar to the left, I’ve quoted Simon Wiesenthal and repeat the anecdote here: for his 90th birthday, Wiesenthal chose to celebrate the ocassion in Adolph Hitler’s own favored Imperial Hotel, Vienna, and he said, and this recorded on black and white film and replicated and transmitted in this day on DVD, “The Nazis are no more, but we are still here, singing and dancing.”

Wherever we are on this earth, wherever we have been, we are still together too, every one of us.


1. Hancocks, Paula.  “Afghanistan’s last Jew vows to stay put.”  CNN, May 10, 2010: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/05/09/afghanistan.last.jew/

2. Wikimedia Commons.  “Herat Jews Cemetery.”  فارسی: قبرستان موسایی ها در هرات. مقبره ای که در پس زمینه دیده میشود مقبره سلطان آقا یکی از اولیاء الله هرات است.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Herat_Jews_Cemetery.jpg

3. Afghanistan Old Photos.  “Jews of Afghanistan Pictures”: http://www.afghanistan-photos.com/crbst_30.html

4. Ittig, Annette.  “Documentation of Afghanistan Synagogues.”  International Survey of Jewish Monuments: http://www.isjm.org/country/herat.htm

Related Reference

Oppenheim, James S.  “About Compassion – Out of Iraq.”  Oppenheim Arts & Letters, September 24, 2009: http://commart.typepad.com/oppenheim_arts_letters/2009/09/24-1907.html

Oppenheim, James S.  “About Libya’s Expulsion of the Jews.”  Oppenheim Arts & Letters, October 7, 2009: http://commart.typepad.com/oppenheim_arts_letters/2009/10/07-2210.html

Wikipedia.  “History of the Jews in Afghanistan”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Afghanistan

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