If it weren't true, it could be the stuff of a blockbuster Hollywood comedy. "Grumpiest Old Men"!
Up until about five years ago, there were only two remaining Jews in the Afghani city of Kabul. Once a city that had a proud population of 40,000 Jews in the 1800's, the ongoing discrimination, the difficult life circumstances and the hard scrabble culture drove most of the Jewish population away. And then were just two (count them - one - two). Their names were Ishaq Levin and Zablon Simintov.
Here's the interesting thing. You might expect that being the last two Jews (the last two of anything) in Kabul would help the two men to develop a kind of deep personal bond. You might think that a kind of, "you scratch my back - I'll scratch yours," "Let's keep an eye out for one another," friendship might develop between these two men. Nothing could be further from he truth. The truth is that both men hated one another with a passion!
"He is an old fool whose brains do not work properly," Mr. Simitov said of his enemy not long ago. "He is a donkey who thinks only of himself. I wouldn't go into his flat if I were you: it stinks." Mr. Levy had equally invective words for his arch-rival; "He is arrogant and ruthless. He is making my life a misery."
Once a city of many synagogues, there were two remaining Jewish houses of worship in Kabul up until recently. The deep animus between these two men actually prevented them from attending each other's places of worship. And so, even though the membership of each church was only one, they carried on by themselves each week. Each week, both men would leave their apartment by themselves, walk down the street to their own private synagogue, where all by themselves they would pray, sing, lead worship and then go home. Perhaps they were unaware of the scripture; "Where two or more (not one) are gathered, there I am also."
The hatred and anger between these two men was so great that it actually led to a fist fight that broke out in one of their synagogues. "Yes, I knocked him down, with my fist, right here," said Simintov, "He had sneaked in and was eavesdropping on my conversations." What conversations, one wonders? There was only one member of the church. Perhaps he was speaking to...God
If you have noticed that I have been writing in the past tense about this strained relationship, you are correct. On a snowy, blustery, bleak day in 2005, the older man, Ishaq Levin, was found dead in his cluttered apartment. Levin died by himself, all alone, in a very foreign part of the world. And yet sadly, death itself would not end the struggle between the two men. Commenting on his nemesis' death, Simintov said, "The old man was crazy!"
This real-life illustration of hatred offers so many possibilities for comment and observation. It raises the question of whether in the midst of an outside oppressive force, people resort to a kind of in-fighting and squabbling that would not otherwise exist. (As a side note, I remember a similar pattern when I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, as a kid. The Christian community there was often divided against itself, mostly because of the outside religious oppression that took place against it.).
But on this Monday in the year 2015, the clearest theme to emerge from this tragic story is the simplest:
Don't Take Your Anger To The Grave
Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you; Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44).
In the case of Mr. Levin and Mr. Simintov, they were both each other's only neighbor and they were also bitter enemies. One can't stop to wonder though, if the tragedy of their lives could have turned into a story of redemption, and grace if, by reaching down deep-inside, and from a power that was wholly not of their own, they could have forgiven one another for whatever grievances they had against each other. Perhaps instead of being the last two angry enemies of the Jewish faith in Kabul, they could have been the last two friends, and companions - who hung with one another - until the end!
All For Now,