You may remember when The New York Times ran an article in 2003 about the only two Jews left in Afghanistan, Zablon Simintov and Ishaq Levin. Until Levin passed away at the age of 80 in 2005, the two Jews continued to detest one another. One accused the other of trying to take over the synagogue. There was a fight. Then, they simply refused to coexist. Together, the Times quipped, they had survived the Taliban, but could they survive each other?
The entire quandary of two Jews hating each other and stuck in one synagogue seems like a scene out of Sartre’s “No Exit.” “Hell,” wrote Sartre, “is other people.” Or, perhaps, our quandary could seem like a precursor to a line taken from a pulpit joke about a Jew stranded on a desert island building two synagogues (the one he’ll go to, and one he wouldn’t be caught dead setting foot into).
More so, for me, our Afghanistan story is a cautionary tale about what can happen when we close our hearts and refuse to forgive one another. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously remarked that “no religion is an island.” Heschel, in his time, was speaking about the importance of interreligious dialogue. However, the Yamim Noraim remind us of how critical intrareligious dialogue among Jews can be toward maintaining a strong, vibrant, community.
In the new year of 5780, Simintov remains the last Jew in Afghanistan. Admittedly, he acknowledges, he lives a somewhat lonely religious existence. For those of us living in the rich and vibrant community of Atlanta, this should not come as no surprise. One can hardly live a meaningful Jewish existence on an island. Yet if we refuse to forgive one another, then this will precisely be the path we will have chosen for ourselves.
This new year let us not forget that a life without forgiveness only leads to a lonely, island-bound existence in Afghanistan.