Hey Hitler, the Rabbi’s a Surfer.
Arbeit macht frei: Work will set you free.
I had seen movies and heard several stories about the Holocaust. I knew it was tragic and I had met people who had survived it. But I never really got it until I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, where two million people were murdered.
It was the most haunting experience of my life. I saw barracks with thousands of pounds of women’s hair that was shaved before they were put through the gas chambers, and the endless tortures documented on this massive plantation used to murder human beings.
I tried to find some beauty within the ashes: that one little flower that I could turn into art. But there were no flowers, not there, and my heart broke. I awakened to an incomprehensible reality I did not know existed… until that day.
I was at a loss for how to process what I had taken in. It was too much.
But, to echo the words of holocaust survivor and writer Elie Weisel,
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
When I returned home to Los Angeles, I contacted a surfing Hasidic rabbi I had heard about. We decided to go to the beach and make art.
Our trip yielded the surreal Perseverance: Portrait of a surfing rabbi, which depicts a grey-bearded rabbi in long black coat, prayer shawl, and fedora, carrying a surfboard under blue skies gazing out to sea.
What I love about this work of art so much is that it stands in direct contrast with the Auschwitz desolation, as a reminder of a flower that breaks through the concrete of hatred, prejudice and extreme suffering. It is the biggest, most hopeful, warmest, feel-good scenario I could have imagined, and it depicts a reality of our choosing — one filled with a sea of flowers.
As Mark Chagall put it,
“Art must be an expression of love or it is nothing.”
A while back, I picked up a little card of this young boy.
This picture will break my heart until the end of time, and it will always inspire me to make use of my life.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” ~ Elie Weisel