The last Jew from Kabul will travel to Israel.
Zebulon Simentov is in Turkey, in what will be his last stop before he arrives in the Holy Land.
The man, known as the last Jew in Kabul, is leaving for Israel soon after agreeing to a religious divorce to his ex-wife on a zoom call, a condition for smooth entry into the Holy Land.
Zebulon Simentov, who fled Afghanistan last month after the Taliban takeover, landed in Turkey on Sunday. His rescuers say it is the last stop before traveling to Israel, perhaps as early as this week.
It marks the end of a week-long Odyssey, including an escape from his homeland, as well as a video conference divorce proceedings to ensure he does not get into trouble with Israeli authorities.
Under Jewish religious law, a husband must agree to divorce his wife, which he has refused to do for many years. Faced with the possibility of legal action in Israel, where his ex-wife Semantov lives after years of resistance, he finally agreed to divorce last month in a special zoom call overseen by Australian rabbinic authorities.
The Associated Press saw part of the procedure. During the sometimes chaotic discussion, conducted through an interpreter who struggled to explain the process, Simentov agrees to sign a divorce document known as "obtain" after receiving assurances that he will not face trouble in Israel.
Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, whose nonprofit group Tzedek Association funded the trip, said Simentov had spent the last few weeks living peacefully in Pakistan, an Islamic country with no diplomatic relations with Israel.
He said his group had considered bringing Simentov to the United States but decided that Israel was a better destination due to difficulties processing an entry visa to the United States. Simentov has many relatives, including five brothers and two daughters, who already they are in Israel.
"We are pleased that Zebulun Semantov has managed to escape Afghanistan and is now safe in Turkey, whose group has helped evacuate dozens of people from Afghanistan," Margaret said. " Zebulon's life was in danger in Afghanistan ."
Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, The president of the Union of Rabbis in the Islamic States received Semantov at Istanbul Airport on Sunday.
He said it was time to take Somantov to the Israeli consulate to arrange for his entry into Israel. According to Israel's "return law", any Jew has the right to Israeli citizenship.
Chitrak said he worked with Margareton and other volunteers for months to get Semantov out of Afghanistan. "I am just happy to be free.," he said.
It is unclear how long that will take. Israel's Foreign Ministry said it was not aware of the request. Simentov could also be delayed by coronavirus protocols restricting entry into Israel.
Simentov, who lived in a dilapidated synagogue in Kabul, maintained the kosher religion and prayed in Hebrew, endured decades of war as the country's centuries-old Jewish community was rapidly shrinking. But the Taliban's takeover in August appears to have been the last straw.
Moti Kahana, an Israeli-American businessman who runs a private company that organized the evacuation on behalf of Margaretten, told The Associated Press last month that Simentov was not concerned about the Taliban because he had lived under their rule before. Instead, he said threats from the more radical Islamic State group and pressure from neighbors rescued with it helped persuade him to leave.
Hebrew manuscripts found in caves in northern Afghanistan indicate that a thriving Jewish community existed there at least 1,000 years ago. At the end of the 19th century, Afghanistan was home to some 40,000 Jews, many Persian Jews who had fled forced conversion in neighboring Iran. The decline of the community began with a departure to Israel after its creation in 1948.
In an interview with The Associated Press in 2009, Simentov said that the last Jewish families left after the 1979 Soviet invasion.
He shared the synagogue building for several years with the only other Jew in the country, Isaak Levi. Still, they despised and fought each other during the previous Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.
On one occasion, Levy accused Semantov of robbery and espionage, and Semantov replied that Levy rented rooms to prostitutes, an allegation he denied, The New York Times reported in 2002.
The Taliban arrested both men, beat them, and confiscated them. The ancient Torah scrolls disappeared after the Taliban were ousted from power in the 2001 US-led invasion.
When his 80-year-old family member died in 2005, Semantov said he was happy to be free.
Reporters who visited Semantov over the years and charged hefty fees for interviews found a whiskey-loving man who kept a pet peacock and watched Afghan television. He observed Jewish food restrictions and ran a kebab shop.
Born in 1959 in the western city of Herat, he has always insisted that Afghanistan is his home.
Like other Islamic militant groups, the Taliban are hostile to Israel but tolerated the country's tiny Jewish community during their previous reign.