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Posted in: American Bride

Published on Mar 06, 2014 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for

National Jewish Book Awards


Now, I have been knighted. Now, my people have claimed me as one of their own. Forevermore, my book, An American Bride in Kabul, will bear a seal on its cover designating it as a winner. The evening was splendid, resplendent; the company distinguished. It was a cultured, literary, political, religious, and diverse gathering that one does not often experience.

I extend my gratitude to Ari Goldman, who was a most splendid host; Lawrence J. Krule, the President of the Jewish Book Council, Mimi S. Frank, the Chair of the National Jewish Book Awards; the blessed judges on my panel (whoever they may be); and of course, to Carolyn Starman Hessel, the Director of the Jewish Book Council.

We each had two minutes to speak. Here is what I said:

I once lived in a harem in Afghanistan--but I also nearly died there too.

How did a nice Orthodox Jewish girl from Borough Park ever get to Kabul?

Perhaps, I yearned for a mystical union between Yitzhak and Yishmael. And so, I married Yishmael.

I was Rita Hayworth, my Afghan "Prince" was the Aga Khan; I was Fanny Brice, he was Omar Sharif.

He never told me that his father had three wives and 21 children, that women still wore burqas or hijab, that I would be pressured to convert to Islam.

When we landed in Kabul, officials smoothly removed my American passport. Suddenly, I was the citizen of no country. I had become the property of a polygamous Afghan family and was expected to live with my mother-in-law in purdah and convert to Islam.

I lived gender and religious apartheid long before the Taliban came to power.

Afghanistan has followed me into the future and right into the West. The Islamic face-veil and burqa are here in America.

Mine is also a story about the Jews of Islam. My father-in-law helped found the country's modern banking system and commanded a fleet of import-export companies. Historically, these enterprises had belonged to the country's Jews and Hindus whom the Afghan King impoverished overnight in the late 1920s. I discovered that there had been a Nazi-Afghan alliance in the 1930s and 1940s.

Why did I go to Afghanistan?

Why else than to be able to tell you about it now, at this moment in history. It was kismet, bashert; clearly it was my destiny.

With this award my people have claimed me—the rebel girl from Borough Park—as one of their own.

.מה טבו אהליך יעקב, משכנותיך ישראל "Ma Tovu, ohalecha, Yaakov, mishk'notecha, Yisrael." How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel!

Bless you and thank you.


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