Embracing the Joy of Judaism in Erode, India

Text by Judi Kloper
Photos by Judi Kloper and Moshe Samuel

In the previous Kulanu Magazine, I shared a short summary of my two brief visits in January and March 2020 with the Zion Torah Center community in Erode, Tamil Nadu, India. Join me again here in these pages for another glimpse of some of the people who are part of this committed neighborhood and community. To learn more about the founding of the Zion Torah Center, read “Praying for Zion in Tamil” by Ari Zivotofsky and  Ari Greenspan: bit.ly/TamilZion.

When I visited in March 2020, construction had just begun on the community’s new synagogue. It was designed byMoshe ben Samuel Devasahayam, son of the community’s late founder. Windows are in the shape of the Ten Commandments and the ceiling reflects the 12 Tribes of Israel. Brass oil lamps and hanging diyas (small clay oil lamps traditionally found in India) represent the community’s Tamil culture and traditions. On Shabbat, the Torah is decorated with garlands of jasmine and handcrafted fragrant incense sticks are burned to welcome the Shabbat Queen. And as this magazine goes to press, Hanukkah is being celebrated — on a small scale due to Covid — for the first time in the new synagogue. Future plans include building a mikveh and a Jewish library nearby. At the time of this writing, the new aron kodesh (holy ark) and the bimah are being built. Moshe told me, “Our goal is to reopen and dedicate our house to all who want to embrace and learn about Judaism. This center was founded by my father, of blessed memory. He longed to host Jews (including backpackers from Israel), and more than a hundred Israelis have visited us so far. We are honored to host them and other Jewish visitors from around the world.” If you would like to visit or be a Kulanu volunteer in this community, this would be your “home away from home.” You will be warmly welcomed by Moshe, his mom Anne, his sisters, and the entire community.

Photos, top to bottom: s On every Shabbat, the girls of the community, under the direction of Moshe’s mom Anne and sister Yerusha, prepare lunch for everyone, March 2020. s After Havdallah, a group photo with Moshe (left), March 2020. s Falmon Jacob saying the kiddush at Shabbat lunch, March 2020

Starting to the left and down counter-clockwise: Sharing Shabbat lunch, March 2020. s Hanukkah 2019: all the diyas (oil lamps) are lit along with the hanukkiah. Those are wicks burning on the bottom diyas. s Delivering many Judaica items donated by supporters from Oregon and the east coast of the USA, January 2020. s Sam Deyvanayagam shares about the week’s Torah portion, March 2020. s Two friends after Havdallah, March 2020. s Detail of the curtain covering the aron kodesh (holy ark).

Clockwise around, starting top right: s After Havdallah, Judi and these girls enjoyed playing some games and talking, March 2020. Shabbat Torah service, March 2020. Moshe lighting the first candle of oil for the community’s first Hanukkah in the brand new synagogue. The hanukkiah was handmade in memory of Moshe’s dad and founder of this community, Samuel Devasahayam, December 2020.  First night of Hanukkah, 2020, in the new synagogue. All the diyas are lit, and so is the new hanukkiah!  On the first night of Hanukkah, 2020 Rivka lights her hanukkiah. The children have been studying Hebrew and the prayers. Many of them, such as this little girl, can read Hebrew. In her siddur, prayers are in Hebrew and transliterated into Tamil and English. Moshe did most of the work, with some help from his parents. Now, the weekday and Shabbat siddurs and even a machor for Rosh Hashanah have all been transliterated. They are probably the first in the world to be written in Tamil! March 2020.