Afghan Jew's Remains Going to Israel

The remains of the second-to-last Jew in Afghanistan were flown Tuesday to Uzbekistan, the first stop on a journey to Israel where the body will be buried, the International Committee of the Red Cross (search) said.

Ishaq Levin (search), caretaker of Afghanistan's only functioning synagogue, died at about age 80 in the Afghan capital on Jan. 18, apparently of natural causes, ending a bitter feud with the only other survivor of a once-thriving Jewish community.

A Red Cross aircraft took Levin's body to the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, where it was to be handed over to Israeli Embassy officials, said Jean-Nicolas Marti, deputy head of the Red Cross delegation in Afghanistan.

It was unclear when the body would be flown on to Israel.

Levin's relatives approached the Red Cross in Tel Aviv and asked for help in bringing his body to Israel, Marti said.

Marti said bureaucracy and infrequent flights between Tashkent and Tel Aviv had held up the transfer. Afghanistan and Israel have no diplomatic relations.

Levin's death halved Kabul's tiny Jewish community, leaving just 45-year-old Zebulon Simentov (search), who was Levin's neighbor in the downtown synagogue.

Afghanistan's Jewish community numbered as many as 40,000 in the late 19th century, after Persian Jews fled forced conversion in neighboring Iran. But by the mid-20th century, only about 5,000 remained, and most emigrated after Israel's creation in 1948.

According to Simentov, the last eight or nine families left after the 1979 Soviet invasion. But Levin — the synagogue's shamash, or caretaker — stayed on, even through the repressive rule of the Taliban.

Simentov and Levin had feuded for years, blaming each other for arrests and beatings at the hands of the Taliban as well as the loss of the synagogue's only Torah.

Police have said the scroll was in the hands of a former Taliban minister now believed to be incarcerated in the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.