An Interview with Sara Aharon: Author
Sylvia: Hi Sara, it is such a pleasure to interview you. Please give our readers a brief introduction of yourself and a little about your book.
Sara: Hello Sylvia. My name is Sara Aharon, I’m 26 years old and I live in New York. My first book, From Kabul to Queens: the Jews of Afghanistan and Their Move to the United States (2011) were co-published by Decalogue Books and the American Sephardi Federation. From Kabul to Queens tells the unknown story of the Afghan Jewish community and, perhaps surprising to many readers, of the relative tolerance and peace in which Afghanistan’s Jews and Muslims lived together. Much of Jewish history tells of persecutions, of violence. But that wasn’t the case in Afghanistan, where about five to six thousand Jews lived in the mid-twentieth century.
The back cover summary says as follows:
“This engaging, innovative book brings to life the history of Afghan Jewry—from its earliest roots to the 21st century. Spanning from the community’s origins—which many Afghan Jews trace to biblical times—to the development of their Jewish communal institutions, From Kabul to Queens details the story of a small Jewish community that lived in relative peace with its Sunni Muslim neighbors. Sara Y. Aharon compellingly bridges the Jews’ experiences in Afghanistan to their successes and struggles in rebuilding a new life in the U.S. and among American Jewish society.”
Sylvia: What inspired you to write your first book?
Sara: The roots of From Kabul to Queens stem from my college days when I was at Brandeis University, which I loved. It was time for me to consider writing a senior thesis, the final original research project. I immediately knew I wanted to research the Jews of Afghanistan.
My family is Jewish, and my father’s side of the family comes from Afghanistan. Growing up, no one had heard of this country, as hard as that might be to remember in our post-9/11 world. And no one—absolutely no one—ever mentioned a Jewish community in Afghanistan. My classes never spoke of Jews living there.
I decided to research this topic for my own interest and to learn about part of where I come from. Through writing and researching we discover our subject matter, but I also think we gain insight into part of ourselves, especially when there’s a direct family connection.
Once I graduated, I was surprised at the amount of interest coming from professors and family friends about this subject. Their enthusiasm made me wonder if other people out there would like to read and learn about this portion of Afghanistan’s history. I thought about turning my thesis into a real book, and did more research and writing following Brandeis. Thankfully a couple of publishers came on board and brought From Kabul to Queens to a wider audience.
Sylvia: Very interesting that a senior project became a book. Is there a message in your
novel that you want readers to grasp?
Sara: One of the main themes was how Muslim and Jews lived mostly in harmony alongside each other in Afghanistan. True, it wasn’t rosy all the time: the Jews were a tiny minority and considerably wary of their Muslim neighbors. But the Sunni Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, expressed respect for the Jewish people. The Pashtuns believed that they descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, and thus viewed Afghan Jews as a group akin to their brothers.
Today if Afghan Pashtuns were asked about their origins, I could not predict what they might say. The state of international politics and the American presence in Afghanistan could easily foster resentment against Jews.
Yet I hope that From Kabul to Queens makes its readers think about a different time in recent history when Jewish and Muslim groups in Central Asia and the Middle East were not adversaries.
Sylvia: Why should we buy your book?
Sara: I hope that through From Kabul to Queens, readers can discover a completely different side of Afghanistan, one where minorities lived relatively in peace. It’s a very different image than the wars and utter violence against women we see on TV all the time.
Sylvia: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Sara: I would humbly suggest to other aspiring writers to let the story lead you, not vice versa. It’s too easy to get caught up in deciding how you want to end it and how you’re going to get there. Especially for history works and non-fiction, allow the material you’re researching and analyzing to speak to you.
Sylvia: Great advice! What is your POWER WORD? Why this word?
Sara: My power word would probably be “calmness.” I write the best when I’m in the zone, as I like to think about it, with little noise or distraction. My mind gets calm and zeroes in on the material and the narrative.
Sylvia: Did you visit Afghanistan to write your book?
Sara: I’m flattered every time I get asked this question. But no, I did not visit Afghanistan. To be an American civilian in Afghanistan is dangerous; to be Jewish even more so; and to be a woman maybe the most life-threatening. If you happen to be all three, as I am, then going to the war zone of Afghanistan is perilous to say the least.
Still, I felt it was important for From Kabul to Queens to also highlight the current state of Jewry in Afghanistan. My book contains colored pictures of synagogue and Jewish grave restorations from just the past few years. And only one known Jew—a middle-aged Jewish man—lives in the entire Afghanistan, in Kabul, today.
Sylvia: Sara, this has been very interesting and educational. Thank you for your time. I enjoyed learning more about you and your book. Please let our readers know how to contact you.
Sara: Thank you Sylvia for this opportunity. My contact information is below.
- Website: www.fromkabultoqueens.com
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Books-by-Sara-Y-Aharon/146904518784028