Residents and activists in Herat province have called on government to rehabilitate synagogues and other historical sites that belonged to Jewish people who lived in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
One of four synagogues in Herat province – in the west of Afghanistan – is under construction by the provincial directorate of information and culture, local officials said.
Thousands of Jews came to Afghanistan from Iran during Nader Shah’s reign when limitations were imposed on religious minorities in that country. They lived in an area called Mohmand which was then renamed to Moosaeeha’s (Jews) region.
The Jews lived peacefully alongside their Afghan brothers in Herat until the civil war began in late 1980s. They started leaving the country in 1987.
Herat residents have good memories of them. The Jews were mostly involved in trade such as silk, clothes and groceries.
“We had good relationships. We had family relationships and were inviting each other and we did participate in each others' ceremonies, but now they are not here,” said Mohammad Nader, a resident of Moosaeeha area in Herat.
“One of the Jews who was our nieghbor married a Muslim daughter who is our relative. At that time I was young and I was playing with their children,” said Abdul Rashid, a resident of Herat’s Old City.
Four synagogues and a bathing facility still stand in Herat - of which all are listed in the United Nations’ cultural heritage sites list.
When the Jews left Herat, out of the synagogues, the Gorkiya Synagogue was turned into a mosque, and the Shamayel Synagogue was turned into a school.
Yoha Synagogue is now being reconstructed by government. Gorgia Synagogue is partly damaged, according to officials.
“We have started rehabilitating Yoha Synagogue and we will try to preserve these ancient sites,” Zalmai Safa, head of Herat’s Historical Sites Protection Department.
In addition to the synagogues, there is a Jewish cemetery. Every year, a number of Jewish people visit the cemetery to rebuild their forefathers' graves.
“Three synagogues were rehabilitated from 1991 up to 2011 and one of them has been named Bilal Mosque,” Humayun Ahmadi, an archeologist from Herat said.
“When the Jews went abroad, many years later, a number of them came to Herat and assigned me as the cemetery guard. They visit Herat every year," Abdul Aziz, the Jewish cemetery's guard said.