Colombia’s Jewish community numbers about 4,000, but has recently been expanding thanks to a growing influx of converts, who call themselves emergentes, or emerging Jews. Heide Paster Herf, who has been photographing these newcomers to Judaism in the city of Cali, writes:
Even though none of [the emergentes] was 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, many told me. My photography project focused on hundreds who have established their own communities of converts apart from the traditional Jewish communities.
There are seven known emerging synagogues in Cali, whereas the traditional Jewish community has only three. It is hard not to notice the emergentes as they embrace the outward signifiers of Orthodoxy. I first happened upon this several years ago when I spotted a taxi driver with a yarmulke and the traditional tallit (prayer shawl) that Orthodox Jews wear.
These new adherents talk of being unsatisfied with their previous faiths. “I wanted to find the truth,” Rivka Espinosa (formerly Loida Espinosa), who converted from evangelical Christianity, told me. “I began to study, more and more, and ask myself deep questions. What was my mission in this world? Why was I here? And what did I need to do?” She said her father was the pastor of an evangelical church where she was a member. He also converted.
The emerging Jews are not associated with any traditional organization in Colombia or in the United States, according to Alfredo Goldschmidt, Colombia’s chief rabbi. But he does counsel and advise them: “The emerging communities consult with me regarding everything,” he told me. “They are a parallel community.”
Some of Herf’s photographs can be found at the link below.