We had no trouble finding Samuel’s apartment. Everyone in this wonderful land of sun and sea, indefatigable street vendors, and unflappable locals, seems to know this spritely 81 year old.

Once we were settled into his living room with cold drinks firmly in hand, we could see why. Despite having fled Poland when he was a wee lad of 8, Samuel converses in a rich Yiddish which seems more at home in the lanes of Lvov than the calles of Cartagena. A torrent of thoughts, memories, and fiery conviction poured forth as we sat there in the hot summer night, the fan whirring noisily in the background. The sometimes unbridgeable chasm between belief and practice is no more evident than in Samuel, but somehow he manages to dance merrily on the edge of this awful ravine which has devoured so many, his white hair flapping in the ocean breeze.

He says that he has no need for Tefillin; modern day Judaism is all but laughable. As he said it, “Mein tatte is geven a tzaddik, ober ich bin a goy” (My father was a saint, but I am a non-Jew).

He shuffles over to the door and points defiantly at the Mezuzah. He tells us of his true pride in having raised a fine Jewish family who have all remained faithful to their heritage. He leads us to a wall and shows us a certificate honoring his 50 years as a loyal member of the Bogota Chevra Kadisha burial society.

The evening has worn on. It is now fully dark outside, and the fan continues its valiant struggle against the stifling heat. His wife Fanny looks on from her seat with kindly concern and nachas, while their daughter and son-in-law discuss Jewish life in Bogota.

Samuel escorts us out, bidding us farewell in Yiddish. He closes the door and the heat hits us. But behind the door a bigger flame burns, stoked and kept alive by a man who taught me that to be Jewish is immutable, a status conferred on man not by himself but by his G‑d.