In Rural South India, Torah Study Flourishes

Text and photos by Judi Kloper

In January and March 2020, I visited the Zion Torah Center in Erode, Tamil Nadu. The community’s roots in Judaism go back to the late founder’s grandfather who was a Baghdadi Jew, though its members have only been practicing since 2011. I was welcomed by Moshe Samuel, his family, and many community members.

Their knowledge of and dedication to Judaism, Torah, and Hebrew moved me. COVID-19 in India ended my trip early, but the memories and friendships are long-lasting.

During Shabbat morning services, these men read the parashah (the weekly Torah portion).
Moshe, the 19-year-old son of the late founder of Zion Torah Center, now leads the community, studying and teaching Torah, Hebrew, and Jewish history. Here, he plays the piano as everyone sings before Havdallah.
On Shabbat, the girls and women wear white. The older girls help to serve the Shabbat lunch which Moshe’s mom Anne and sister Jerusha (back row, middle) prepare.
Before eating lunch, Aaron Kirubakaran, with his daughter Jenny and wife Judith, chants the Kiddush.
During Shabbat morning service, Moshe walks through the congregation so that everyone has a chance to touch or kiss the Torah.
On Friday before Shabbat begins, Jerusha makes several loaves of challah to serve the congregation during Shabbat lunch. As it bakes in their small oven, the delicious smell of baking bread drifts through their home.