The last Jew to leave Afghanistan is not Zevulun Simentov, but a distant cousin of his, Tova Muradi, aged 83. After receiving threats, Muradi, two children and four grandchildren were flown out in a rescue mission organised by ISRA-AID. Point of No Return has learned that they were part of a group of 167 Afghans evacuated out of the country to the UAE via Tajikistan. They are among some 2,000 refugees taken in by Albania. They are permitted to stay until they obtain visas for their final destinations. Muradi, whose family is more Muslim than Jewish, hopes to join her daughter Khorshid in Canada. However, she intends to visit her five siblings in Israel and her parents’ graves in Jerusalem. ISRA-AID organised a Zoom call so that Tova could see her three sisters and two brothers for the first time in 60 years. It was a tearful event, all the more poignant as another sister, to whom she had been particularly close, had died six months earlier. ISRA-AID had not been able to rescue 25 more members of Tova’s family, but referred them to other relief agencies. They are now safely in the UAE. The Washington Post broke the news of Tova’s rescue :
JERUSALEM — For years, Zebulon Simentov branded himself as the “last Jew of Afghanistan,” the sole remnant of a centuries-old community. He charged reporters for interviews and held court in Kabul’s only remaining synagogue. He left the country last month for Istanbul after the Taliban seized power.
Now it appears he was not the last one.
Simentov’s distant cousin, Tova Moradi, was born and raised in Kabul and lived there until last week, more than a month after Simentov departed in September. Fearing for their safety, Moradi, her children and nearly two dozen grandchildren fled the country in recent weeks in an escape orchestrated by an Israeli aid group, activists and prominent Jewish philanthropists.
“I loved my country, loved it very much, but had to leave because my children were in danger,” Moradi told The Associated Press from her modest quarters in the Albanian town of Golem, whose beachside resorts have been converted to makeshift homes for some 2,000 Afghan refugees.
Moradi, 83, was one of 10 children born to a Jewish family in Kabul. At age 16, she ran away from home and married a Muslim man. She never converted to Islam, maintained some Jewish traditions, and it was no secret in her neighborhood that she was Jewish.
“She never denied her Judaism, she just got married in order to save her life as you cannot be safe as a young girl in Afghanistan,” Moradi’s daughter, Khorshid, told the AP from her home in Canada, where she and three of her siblings moved after the Taliban first seized power in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Despite friction over her decision to marry outside the faith, Moradi said she stayed in touch with some of her family over the years. Her parents and siblings fled Afghanistan in the 1960s and 1980s. Her parents are buried at Jerusalem’s Har Menuhot cemetery, and many of her surviving siblings and their descendants live in Israel.
Pursuant to the Abraham Accords, Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapd formally opened Israel’s new UAE embassy. Bahrain’s ambassador arrived in Tel Aviv and Morocco unveiled its new building in the city.
The Guardian reports:
Israel’s foreign minister has inaugurated the country’s new embassy in Abu Dhabi in the first official Israeli visit to the United Arab Emirates since the two countries normalised relations last year.
Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Yair Lapid appeared to reach out to other regional adversaries.
“Israel wants peace with its neighbours – with all its neighbours. We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home … We call on all the countries of the region to recognise that, and to come talk to us,” he said, according to a transcript released by the Israeli foreign ministry.
A Dubai museum has signed an agreement with a new Israeli centre, in the planning stage, devoted to the heritage of Jews in Islamic lands, with a view to increasing ‘people-to-people’ cooperation between the UAE and Israel. As reported in the Times of Israel, the document will celebrate what Arabs and Jews ‘have in common, rather than what divides them.’ See my comment below.
A delegation from Israel was hosted by the Museum of the Crossroads of Civilisaitons in Dubai on 6 December
According to the document, the institutions seek to “highlight the positive historic relationship between Jews and Arabs, to better understand the culture of the other, to strengthen and highlight the contribution of both peoples to humanity” and to collaborate on projects to create more understanding of each other’s peoples.
In the document, the two centers also stated that they “should teach about what unites Jews and Arabs rather than that which divides us.” It mentions Jerusalem as holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Both centers committed to becoming “hubs of people-to-people cooperation and partnerships,” according to a press release issued by the Heritage Center.
“Importantly, both centers will support preservation efforts of historic and archeological sites of importance to both Jews and Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Sunday evening’s launch event in Dubai was held under the auspices of the International Institute for Tolerance, a quasi-governmental organization established by the ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
“History is being made at this event and together on the eve of Hanukkah, we can bring light to the whole region. There is no better way of doing this than by reflecting and celebrating our common heritage and culture,” said Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who has been very active in promoting ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Ahmed Obaid Al Mansoori, the founder of the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum, called the event a “turning point in Arab-Jewish relations.
”The September 15 UAE-Israel normalization agreement paved the way for political and diplomatic ties between the two countries, “and now it is our role, as people of both nations to translate the peace agreement into tangible outcomes through people-to-people connection, interactions, promoting peace and tolerance in the region,” he said.
“In the Middle East and North Africa, we have countless Jewish sites without community, and in Israel we have community without memorial or an official institution for the preservation of the history and culture” of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, he said.
“Tonight, we rectify both of these gaps by holding the first-ever event in the Arab world committed to remembering lost Jewish communities and the foundation of building a heritage center” in Jerusalem for Jews from the areas.We as a people have a rich and vibrant history in the Middle East and we are excited to be celebrating what we have in common rather than our differences,” said Danny Hakim of the Azrieli Foundation, a philanthropic fund that supports the Heritage Center. “Part of understanding our Jewish history means embracing and appreciating our Jewish heritage in the region.”
My comment: the cooperation agreement builds on the new atmosphere created by the Abraham Accords. To celebrate what Arabs and Jews have in common rather than the differences, has already stirred some criticism. However, as a first step, it is probably wise to put the accent on the positives in the relationship between Jews and Arabs, as long as the points of division do not end up being whitewashed. It is a smart move to make the preservation of sites important to both Jews and Arabs as one of the objectives. This should help counter the tendency in the Arab world to erase its Jewish history and arrest the decay or destruction of Jewish heritage.
A sad reminder that a peace agreement does not necessarily mean an end to popular hostility and ostracism. The victim here is Egyptian actor Mohamed Ramadan, who found himself under fire for taking a photo with Israeli singer Omer Adam in the United Arab Emirates. The Times of Israel reports:
Egyptian actor Mohamed Ramadan with his arm around Israeli singer Omer Adam
Egyptian actor Mohamed Ramadan came under fire over the weekend after an Emirati journalist posted a photo of the star embracing Israeli singer Omer Adam during a trip to the United Arab Emirates.
The picture gained further traction when it was retweeted by the State of Israel’s Arabic Twitter account under the caption “Art brings us together”.
According to reports, the photo was initially posted by Emirati journalist Hamad Al Mazrouei on his Twitter account, captioning the shot: “The most famous artist in Egypt with the most famous artist in Israel, Dubai brings us together.”
However he later deleted the picture as outrage grew.
Islam will no longer govern some aspects of personal law in the UAE. This development could begin a sea change, making the Gulf a more tolerant place for westerners and the fledgling Jewish minority. Times Now digital reports:
The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) move to overhaul its Islamic personal laws is part of a larger trajectory of the Middle Eastern country that is seeking to become more liberal and attract more Western tourists and businesses.
Small Emirati boy walking among flags (Photo: AP)
The weekend announcements to expand personal freedoms will loosen restrictions on alcohol consumption, allow unmarried couple to live together and criminalise “honour killings”.
The implementation of such laws has triggered controversies in the past in a country where a vast majority of residents are expats.
According to the UAE’s government-controlled news agency, the reforms will “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance” and bolster its social and economic image.
Penalties for consuming alcohol and its sale and possession for those above the age of 21 have been done away with. Though alcohol was available in clubs and bars, there were several restrictions governing its transport, purchase and storage at home.
“Cohabitation of unmarried couples” will no longer be a crime. Attempt to suicide has been decriminalised.
Also, the notorious set of tribal custom laws governing so-called “honour crimes” will be scrapped in a step to enhance women’s rights. Under the existing laws, a male relative who assaulted a woman could escape prosecution if she was deemed to have brought ‘dishonour’ to the family.
This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.
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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
One-stop blog on the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.