Heidi Harf Photography: Emerging Jews of Cali, Colombia

On view thru April 16, 2023 

When I moved to Cali, Colombia, in 2003, it was one of the most violent cities in Latin America. I felt lost and unnerved. Having grown up in a conservative Jewish family in New York, I sought out Cali’s Jewish community, which welcomed me. Jews are a tiny minority in Colombia; just 4,000 are estimated to live in a country of 50 million, whose religious majority is Catholic, with a growing contingent of evangelical Christians. In 2017 I was surprised when I stumbled upon a strange phenomena when I was driven in a taxi whose driver was adorned in traditional orthodox attire. In a country where jews are rare, I learned that he was part of a movement of ex-Evanglical Christians who have shed their previous religious doctrines to practice orthodox Judaism and in other cases conservative Judaism.

 Even though none were born Jewish, many had been exposed to Judaism as part of their Christian Faith, through the life of Jesus who was Jewish. They came to see Judaism as the one true religion, this project focuses on hundreds who have established their own communities of converts apart from the traditional jewish communities in Colombia.

 During my project I gained intimate daily access to those who have adopted this way of life and as I photographed I began to see Colombia’s emerging Jews as an example of the universal story of searching for identity and belonging in the face of adversity.

Heidi Paster Harf is an American photographer who spent 18 years abroad and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. While living in Cali, Colombia, Heidi documented both the culturally significant and often overlooked communities. From her personal projects to commissioned works she reveals the humanity and essence of her subjects, while creating vivid and essential images. This photo essay was first published in April 2021 in the Washington Post magazine. Heidi embarked on a journey to bring this story to film, and is the executive producer for the documentary Torah Tropical, currently in post production.