Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Audience Members See TWO JEWS & Then Help Locate Afghanistan's Real-Life 'Last Jew'

The premise of Seth Rozin’s funny and poignant TWO JEWS WALK INTO A WAR… is inspired by the true story of Zebulon Simentov and Isaak Levi, who were introduced to world by Mark Landler’s 2002 New York Times article, entitled, "2 Jews Outlast Taliban. Maybe Not Each Other.," as the last two remaining Jews in Kabul, Afghanistan, after years of Taliban reign in the capital city:

They live across a dusty, sun-baked courtyard from each other, share a tiny kitchen and possess a bond unique in this country's tribal culture: they are the only Jews known to live in the capital of Afghanistan. In the past two months, with the fall of the Taliban, the two men have escaped the long shadow of the fundamentalist Muslim movement, which regarded Judaism as the root of much of the world's evil. By any measure, this should be a happy time for Zbolon Semantov and Isaak Levi. But they are far too busy fighting a private war to take much notice of the dramatic turn in their country's very public conflict.

'I don't talk to him, he's the devil,' Mr. Semantov said of his neighbor. 'A dog is better than him.'

Mr. Levi, peering out his window to see if his nemesis was listening, said, 'He's a thief and a liar.'

Like many longstanding feuds, the conflict between Mr. Semantov and Mr. Levi is cloaked in layers of posturing, evasion and arcane details. But at its heart, the fight is over two forlorn temples - known here as "Jewish mosques" - over which both men claim stewardship...

Although Afghan Jews began emigrating to Israel, Britain and the United States after World War II, the exodus gathered speed during the violence of the mujahedeen wars in the early 1990's. By the time the Taliban seized control in 1996, only five Jewish families were left in Kabul. Now they are gone, too, leaving Mr. Semantov, 41, and Mr. Levi, 60, to squabble over a pair of ramshackle temples that have long since lost their worshipers...

Read Mark Landler’s Entire New York Times Article

The unusual circumstances described in the article set playwright Seth Rozin’s imagination into motion. Some months later, Rozin penned TWO JEWS WALK INTO A WAR…, a vaudevillian-style look at what day-to-day life could have been like for the two men who had nothing in common except a desire to repopulate the Jewish community in Kabul and a deep disdain for one another.

But the story doesn’t end there…

Shortly after the world premiere production of TWO JEWS WALK INTO A WAR… at Florida Stage (West Palm Beach, FL), Rozin received an email from Lieutenant Colonel Robert Engell. As it turns out, Lt. Col. Engell’s parents saw TWO JEWS at Florida Stage and sent the playbill to their son who was serving as the lay Jewish leader for coalition forces in Kabul. Lt. Col. Engell had written to Rozin hoping to find more information about Zebulon Simentov and the synagogue where he lives. Lt. Col. Engell believed he could be of assistance to the man and the rundown building. After a worldwide flurry of emails, Lt. Col. Engell finally tracked down Simentov and posted the following account of their meeting on the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan website:

As I went out to the security gate to meet our guest, I was filled with anticipation. I was going to meet the last Jew in Afghanistan... I was first introduced to Zabolon Simentov after my folks went to the play “Two Jews Walk into a War.” Amidst the Mundle bread and Toll House cookies in their care package was the Playbill with the simple note “Thought you might be interested... Don’t do anything stupid like trying to find him. Be Safe!” What was I to do?...

Read Lt. Col. Robert Engell's Entire Story

Since the New York Times’ original article, Isaak Levi passed away in 2005 at the approximate age of 80, leaving Zebulon Simentov with the final word on their never-resolved feud.

Here is a brief list of stories that feature Simentov as “the last Jew in Afghanistan”:

2010 CNN Video:
Afghanistan’s Last Jew Vows To Stay Put

2007 San Francisco Gate Article (with Pictures):
Alone On Flower Street: He Survived Soviets, Taliban - And Outlasted Even His Despised Peer

2005 BBC News Article:
‘Only One Jew’ Now In Afghanistan

Links to More Information:

Purchase Tickets to InterAct's TWO JEWS WALK INTO A WAR…

Find Out More About InterAct's TWO JEWS WALK INTO A WAR...

Watch an Interview with Playwright Seth Rozin

Watch Promotional Videos of Florida Stage’s TWO JEWS WALK INTO A WAR…

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