I have met and known fellow Jews from almost every corner of the world. It is especially easier in Israel where Jews came from almost one hundred countries. But I had never met Jews from Afghanistan.
Not until yesterday.
Perhaps it was the miracle on the final night of Chanukah.
My young neighbors, Jonathan and Talia, parents of their first-born child, a beautiful and very bright three-month old little girl named Noelle, invited my daughter and I to join them for dessert.
In their warm and spacious apartment we had the pleasure of meeting for the first time Talia’s grandparents, both born in Afghanistan. It was a delightful Chanukah “gift” and we conversed in Hebrew and brought up old memories of an earlier Israel.
Talia’s grandmother arrived in Israel in 1950. I made my appearance in 1951. Together we remembered the days of the maabarot, the tent and hut cities quickly put up to house the many thousands of new immigrants, particularly those arriving from Yemen.
Her grandmother’s family settled in their first Israeli home on Rehov Herzl in Tel-Aviv. Looking at the street now, she marvels at how large it has grown.
Her grandfather recalled his army days and service in the defense ministry. Both of them have much praise for Prime Minister Netanyahu, for his policies, achievements and dreams for a safer and more secure Israel for all. They are genuine and refreshing citizens of Israel. We need more like them.
We spoke about Jewish life in Afghanistan and she told me the story of the last two Jews who remained in that country. Each of them disliked the other and they constantly fought like cats and dogs. With the recent death of one of them, there is only one remaining Jew now in Afghanistan.
Between stories and memories I was treated to a very delicious dish called pilau (or pilaf) consisting of basmati rice and chicken. If all Afghani food is as delicious as that cooked by Talia’s grandmother, I wonder if I should move to Afghanistan and become Jew # 2 ?
Languages differ. Cultures differ. But the Jewish heart and soul remains the same no matter the origin or place of birth.
Baby Noelle will have the thrill of eating her first spoonful of Afghani pilau in a few more years. Perhaps by that time she may be able to share it with a younger brother or sister yet to be born.
On the final night of Chanukah, while the candles were still glowing brightly in the chanukiyah, I made a silent wish that the pilau they will taste will be the one which their great-grandmother has cooked.
I think that almost every child remembers favorite foods and snacks which were fed to them by loving grandparents. But the food from loving great-grandparents must taste even better.
Meeting them in Jonathan and Talia’s lovely apartment was a treat to be remembered.
Perhaps I should have recited the blessing of she-he-che-yanu on the occasion of meeting the first Afghani Jews. It was a delightful evening. Very lovely and charming husband and wife. May Talia and Jonathan be blessed to keep them close. People like them are rare. And Bibi needs more loyal friends and supporters as they are.
I do not know how to say “God bless them” in the Pashto or Dari languages of Afghanistan. But in Hebrew it is simpler. “Hashem yevarech otam b’briyut tovah v’orech yomim.”
May God bless them with good health and long years of life rejoicing together with their loving family.