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Simantov and mazel tov

Last Jew out of Afghanistan set to land in Israel this week

Zebulon Simantov, who recently divorced his Israeli wife, is awaiting visa from Istanbul consulate to travel to the Jewish state; unclear if he plans to stay

Zebulon Simantov is seen at Istanbul Airport, October 17, 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Zebulon Simantov is seen at Istanbul Airport, October 17, 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Zebulon Simantov, Afghanistan’s last Jew, who fled the Taliban’s rule last month, is en route to Israel this week, The Times of Israel has learned.

Simantov, 62, who left Afghanistan by trekking across the border to a neighboring country in September with the help of businessman Moti Kahana, is expected to arrive in Israel on Monday.

Kahana told The Times of Israel that Simantov had landed in Turkey over the weekend, and was waiting for the relevant paperwork to be approved by the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul.

How long that will take remains unclear. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it was unaware of the request and Simentov could also be delayed by coronavirus protocols restricting entry to Israel.

It was not clear if Simantov was attempting to just visit Israel or planned to stay in the country permanently.

“I am very eager to travel to Israel and see lots of people there,” Simantov told the Kan public broadcaster last month.

Since leaving Afghanistan, Simantov has granted his wife, who lives in Israel, a divorce after refusing for more than 20 years.

Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, whose nonprofit group Tzedek Association funded the journey, told the Associated Press that Simentov has spent the last few weeks living quietly in Pakistan, an Islamic country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

He said his group had looked into bringing Simentov to the US but decided that Israel was a better destination both because of difficulties in arranging a US entry visa and because Simentov has many relatives, including five siblings and two daughters, already in Israel.

He reportedly had in the past refused to leave Afghanistan and travel to Israel in order to avoid dealing with his divorce and with rabbinic authorities, who sanction those who do not grant a Jewish divorce.

After the United States’ complete withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August, Simantov finally agreed to leave in September. Kahana’s rescue operation of Simantov also brought out some 30 Afghan women and children, he said at the time.

The operation was funded by Moshe Margaretten, an American ultra-Orthodox fixer whose passion is bringing Jews out of danger.

Kahana, who helped extract people from war-torn Syria, attempted to get Simantov out amid the US withdrawal, on behalf of Margaretten. But Simantov refused to leave at the time, reportedly because of the divorce situation.

Aaron Boxerman and Agencies contributed to this report.

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