Far From Zion

“I felt like nobody knew there were Jews here in Cambodia. And people might be curious to see pictures of how they were living,” photographer Anna Spelman said of her exhibit, “Our Diaspora: Jewish Migration to Asia.”

Showing at Phnom Penh’s Meta House until April 19, the images explore Jewish identity and community in Cambodia, India and Singapore.

Zalman Butman rides in a tuk tuk in Phnom Penh. (Anna Spelman)
Zalman Butman rides in a tuk tuk in Phnom Penh. (Anna Spelman)

The project was conceived when Ms. Spelman, 26, moved to Cambodia from Baltimore, Maryland, and began reflecting on her liberal Reform Judaism upbringing.

“I was bat mitzvahed in my backyard by my lesbian rabbi. My dad isn’t Jewish, but my mom is. I would always say I was Jewish, but it wasn’t something super close to who I was,” she said.

Yet something “switched” when she moved overseas. “I think this happens to a lot of people. I think they are trying to figure out how to define and identify themselves when they are in a new place and don’t know anyone,” she said. “I latched on to being Jewish.”

Ms. Spelman became close with an Orthodox Jewish family that allowed her to photograph their lives, and put her in touch with other Jewish centers around Asia. She has worked on the project on and off for two years. “When I came to Cambodia, I was only starting to get into photography, but this project really helped me get going down the path I wanted to be on,” she said.

Her project is still under way. Over the next month, Ms. Spelman will travel to Indonesia and the Philippines to document the lives of Jews living there, before returning to the U.S. to study photojournalism in graduate school.

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