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Ambassador and Mrs. Jawad Speak on Afghanistan at Sixth & I Synagogue

Over 100 hundred people gathered at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C. on July 17, 2008 to hear Afghan Ambassador Said T. Jawad and Mrs. Shamim Jawad speak about Afghanistan’s history, culture and current challenges. Held in the main hall of the spectacular synagogue, the event was moderated by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steve Coll and provided both a political and personal perspective on events in Afghanistan and the region.

The event began with a movie on the exhibit, "Hidden Treasures of the National Museum, Kabul," which is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art. Coll led off the discussion with questions relating to the exhibit, asking Ambassador Jawad to comment on how the exhibit came to be, how it's artifacts survived decades of conflict and how he experienced Afghanistan's rich cultural heritage growing up as a child. Ambassador Jawad noted that the exhibit, whose artifacts were hidden and protected by ordinary Afghans, was meant to both show gratitude to Afghanistan's international partners and "help restore Afghanistan as a mosaic of cultures."

Coll asked Mrs. Jawad, who is an advocate for women and children in Afghanistan, to reflect on the advances made in recent years and the remaining challenges. She pointed out that in the last seven years, women had emerged from the shadows of the Taliban regime to play an important role in Afghanistan's development, making up 30 percent of the electorate, fielding a female candidate for the presidency, and being elected to 68 seats in the country's parliament. Regardless, she continued, many challenges remain for both women and children, and the primary solutions lay in empowerment and education.

Both Ambassador and Mrs. Jawad fondly reflected on their childhoods in Afghanistan, remembering a country that while not rich, was at peace. Ambassador Jawad, who grew up in Kandahar, called the southern city "lush and beautiful," while Mrs. Jawad remembered Kabul as a diverse city in which women's clothing choices varied from burkas to blue jeans.

Coll touched upon the current struggles in Afghanistan, asking Ambassador Jawad about the changing nature of the terrorist threat and how it could best be addressed. Ambassador Jawad noted that limited investments in Afghan security institutions and the presence of extremist factions in Pakistan's tribal areas had led to an increase in attacks on civilian and military targets in 2008. He added that sympathy for the Taliban remained in some sectors because of the failure of the Afghan government to provide necessary security and services. Ambassador Jawad stated that while there is "no shortage of courage among the Afghan people," the country still requires international support to continue building vital institutions.

During the period of questions and answers, a young Afghan-Jew asked Ambassador Jawad to expand upon the role of Afghanistan's Jewish population in the country's history. Ambassador Jawad pointed out the the Jewish presence in Afghanistan dated back to the eighth century AD, where they lived peacefully in prosperous communities in Herat and Kabul, among other cities. He also stated that the remains of four synagogues had been identified in Herat in 1978, and two of Kabul's most historic synagogues survived the decades of conflict that roiled the country. Ambassador and Mrs. Jawad were accompanied to the event by Mr. Jack Abraham, a leader of New York's Afghan-Jewish population. There are over 200 Jewish families of Afghan descent in New York and they hold their own services, a blend of traditional Jewish rites and Afghan culture, at a synagogue in Queens.

Related News: U.S.: Afghan Jews Keep Traditions Alive Far From Home (Radio Liberty)

More Resources: Pictures of the event by Bruce Guthrie

                         The Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

                         Hidden Treasures of the National Museum, Kabul


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