In 1914, Jewish Afghani brothers Rahamim and David Shamash returned from Jerusalem to Afghanistan along the well-trodden routes of the Silk Road with two new Torah scrolls, written for the Jewish communities of Afghanistan.

A century later, after falling into disuse and disrepair, one of the Torah scrolls has found a new home, when two scions of the Shamash family—Hannah Zion and her brother, Ronald Abram—refurbished and rededicated it last month at Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong.

“Our ancestors have supported Jewish worship wherever they lived and traveled,” Zion told Chabad.org. “We want to show our own descendants and other young Jews living in Hong Kong the importance of maintaining Jewish life and tradition by connecting with the ancient Torah of the Jewish people.“

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Additionally, through the story of her extended family’s challenges and triumphs around the world, Zion hopes that the rededicated Torah will serve as a living testament to “the strength and resilience of the Jewish people; their timeless devotion to Jewish tradition; and their ability to care for their own through times of both peace and persecution.”

That hope was also felt by Hannah and her husband Ephraim's grandson, Akiva Zion, who had the honor of reading from the centennial Torah the first day it was used in Chabad of Hong Kong. “When I touched the aged parchment, I felt a deep connection to Judaism, and Jewish tradition. In that moment, I knew I was honoring my family's history and sharing the wisdom of the Torah with the community, and one day, future generations. It was both a humbling and proud experience.”

The scrolls were written in Jerusalem and transported to Afghanistan in 1914, and sent to Tel Aviv in 1954. One was and reburbished and brought to Thailand last year and the second to Hong Kong in 2024.
The scrolls were written in Jerusalem and transported to Afghanistan in 1914, and sent to Tel Aviv in 1954. One was and reburbished and brought to Thailand last year and the second to Hong Kong in 2024.

A Torah Scroll’s Long Journey From Israel to Kabul to Israel to Hong Kong

The Afghan Jewish community is ancient, dating back at least 2,500 years. A century ago, there were thousands of Jews living in the mountainous country, mostly clustered in the two cities of Kabul and Herat, until persecutions began in 1933. At the end of World War II, there were still 5,000 Jews living in the country, but almost all of them fled by the 1960s, with most emigrating to Israel.

When the Afghan synagogues in which the scrolls were housed closed in the early 1950s, the cousins’ grandfather and family patriarch, Rahamim Shamash, transported the Torahs to two Afghan synagogues: Neve Yerushalayim and Yeshua V’Rahamim in southern Tel Aviv, where many Afghani Jews first relocated, said family member and historian Dr. Ofir Haivri.

But the two southern Tel Aviv synagogues eventually closed their doors when the Afghani immigrants moved to other areas in Israel.

Zina Abraham, Hannah and Ronald’s first cousin, succeeded in finding both Torah scrolls in storage in a synagogue in Holon, Israel.

Upon gaining ownership of the Torahs, Abraham refurbished one of them, which she then donated to the Even Chen synagogue in Bangkok, Thailand, where her husband Yehudah and his brother Mayer established businesses, organized services and built a mikvah.

She left the other Torah in the trusted care of Hannah Zion. who along with her brother Ronald Abram moved to Hong Kong decades ago to maintain their father’s trading business after he passed away. Zion then had the letters of the Torah fixed under the steady hand of a New York sofer before she and her brother, who were both born in Afghanistan and spent the lion’s share of their childhood in New York, acquired a cylindrical-shaped Sephardic Torah case that holds the Torah upright.

The siblings say they found inspiration for their communal work through their father. During Israel’s early years, when antisemitism in Afghanistan was raging, he helped fund the travel of Afghani Jews to Israel. He was also an adviser to the King of Afghanistan on Jewish affairs. Their mother also helped support, with help from neighbors and friends, the three Afghani yeshivahs that existed while she lived there.

Approximately 200 people, including family members who pray regularly at Chabad of Hong Kong, celebrated the gift of the Torah last month. The siblings dedicated it to the memory of their parents, Shimon and Siporah Abram; their brother, Shmuel Abram; and Hannah’s grandson, Yehoshua Nathan Zion.

Hannah and Ronald stand proudly next to the newly refurbished Torah scroll. - Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
Hannah and Ronald stand proudly next to the newly refurbished Torah scroll.
Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong

Among the First to Greet Chabad

When Rabbi Mordechai and Goldie Avtzon opened the doors of Chabad of Hong Kong in 1986, Hannah Zion was among the first to greet them. She has been an involved and cherished member of the Chabad community ever since, seeing it grow from its humble beginnings to its expansion, which includes two satellite Chabad centers across the city that service Hong Kong’s more than 2,000 Jews from countries as far afield as Israel, France, Afghanistan and the United States.

“One of the beautiful things you can see in Hong Kong when it comes to a celebration or events is a sense of harmony and unity,” says Shay Ratzon, an Israeli who moved to Hong Kong in the year 2000 for business and attended the rededication ceremony last month.

Referring to the expansive history of the Zion-Abram ancestors and the many challenges they faced while helping myriads of Jews throughout Asia and the Middle East, Ratzon said: “You see the central value of Judaism, and the importance of a Sefer Torah in maintaining that central value. Regardless of the difficulties one faces, we can all come together as one.”

Jason Weber, who attended the ceremony with his wife, Dina, said “we were moved to see the Zion family rekindle their family legacy in the city in which they now live, perpetuating the memory of their ancestors and the Jewish people’s priceless inheritance, the Torah.”

Goldie Avtzon, co-director of Chabad of Hong Kong, echoed that sentiment. “It’s beautiful to see the continuity of this special Torah from one generation to the next, and its journeys before arriving in Hong Kong,” she said.

Rabbi Avtzon agreed. “Here is a situation in which a person is fulfilling a pledge to ancestors not to exchange or forget about a Torah,” said the rabbi. “The fact that their descendants many years later are dedicating the very same Torah that their ancestors dedicated is an incredible story of Jewish continuity.”

Zion family from Hong Kong and Abrams family from Bangkok - all descendants of original owners of the Torah. - Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
Zion family from Hong Kong and Abrams family from Bangkok - all descendants of original owners of the Torah.
Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
Local Hong Kong rabbi, Mendy Rabinowitz puts the final touches on the Torah scroll. - Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
Local Hong Kong rabbi, Mendy Rabinowitz puts the final touches on the Torah scroll.
Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
Idan and Leeron Hadad and their newborn daughter Mia, fifth generation from the original owners, look on as the Torah is completed. - Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
Idan and Leeron Hadad and their newborn daughter Mia, fifth generation from the original owners, look on as the Torah is completed.
Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
The newly dedicated scroll is greeted by the other Torah Scrolls from the adjacent Ohel Leah Synagogue. - Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
The newly dedicated scroll is greeted by the other Torah Scrolls from the adjacent Ohel Leah Synagogue.
Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
Hannah's grandson, Roee Zion, carryies the Torah as it is brought to its new home. - Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong
Hannah's grandson, Roee Zion, carryies the Torah as it is brought to its new home.
Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch of Hong Kong