In December of 2001, the Jews of Afghanistan celebrated their first Hanukah free of the Taliban in almost a decade. It was a small celebration, for there were only two Jews left in the entire country; and each one celebrated alone.
At separate ends of a rundown synagogue in Kabul, Ishak Levin and Zebulon Simantov lit their candles and said their prayers. Both had survived Soviet occupation, Taliban atrocities, and the American-led invasion. Both prayed for the same things to the same God, and yet they could not share the same space.
Neither of the men could accurately remember what started their feud, but it had deepened and endured. Levin said, “For thousands of years our forefathers have celebrated these nights, and now Jews all over the world are celebrating.” And then speaking of his antagonist he said, “But with him, it’s not possible.”
A decade later Levin was dead, leaving Simantov alone. He is the only known Jew left in the country, living in a single room, alienated from his neighbors, estranged from his wife and daughters, cursing former friends, and demanding money or whiskey from reporters who come to interview him. He is a bitter, old man.
Zebulon Simantov may be alone in his dilapidated Kabul synagogue, but he is not alone in his animosities, even as the celebrations of Hanukah and Christmas are upon us. Untold thousands are at war with those around them, be it the army across the border, or their neighbors across the street. These holidays of shalom and peace aren’t enough to break this hold of ill will.
Yet, it will not always be this way. I believe the day will come when such hostilities will be put to rest, when the world will be at peace. Now, “you might say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” for this is the assurance of the Jewish prophets, the very hope of Advent, and the promise of all perennial faith traditions: There will be “peace on earth and goodwill toward all.”
Yet, I cannot simply wait for that promised peace to magically arrive. No, I have to practice peace, not allowing this world’s massive levels of toxicity to embitter or isolate me from others. I have to become “an instrument of peace,” as Francis of Assisi prayed, learning to overcome evil with good, beginning, at the place I call home.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.