Heidi Harf

This body of work focuses on hundreds of people in Cali, Colombia who though not necessarily Jewish, practice strict Orthodox Judaism. Even though none were born Jewish, they have been exposed to Judaism as part of their evangelical practice within the past several years, and as that exposure deepened, they came to believe that Judaism is the one true religion. Having lived and been a part of the traditional Jewish community in Cali for eighteen years, I only became aware of this parallel community five years ago.

I was born into a Jewish family on Long Island and was raised with the fact that Jewishness is inherent and immutable in the genes. When I first visited the new emerging Jewish communities I had conflicting feelings. On the one hand, an enormous curiosity for something that I considered exotic at the time, but on the other I felt discomfort, I felt invaded in a space that I considered my own. In the end, a strong feeling kind of “you cannot do this because you are not Jewish”. This feeling greatly confronted me with my deepest beliefs and values. I believe in our ability to connect across differences and I was doing the opposite. This was such a contradiction for me as I was a foreigner myself, in Cali, and in their community. Who was I to judge?

As I learned more about them, I became progressively more fascinated with how they lived their lives. The more we got to know each other, the more I began thinking about our similarities and differences. Today we live in a world that focuses on our individualities. The gender you choose, the race you identify with, the religion you adopt, and the borders you cross is a rights that is becoming inherent to the human condition. We can move from one side to another more easily than we think. I began to reflect on what it means to be welcomed and accepted without judgment and regardless of one’s history or background.

Through my experience of photographing this community, I reflected on my own identity and I came to understand the power we all have within us to reach out and welcome others into our lives rather than remain separate or push them away. I hope my photographs encourage us all to look beyond the surface and think more about what makes us alike rather than focus on what separates us, and by doing so we will all have the ability to become more empathetic