a world

Hey Hitler, the Rabbi’s a Surfer.

The entrance to Auschwitz concentration camp.

The entrance to Auschwitz concentration camp.

 

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.”

Auschwitz concentration camp.

Auschwitz concentration camp.

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.”

Perseverance: Portrait of a surfing rabbi

Perseverance: Portrait of a surfing rabbi

***

A while back, I picked up a little card of this young boy.

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This picture will break my heart until the end of time, and it will always inspire me to make use of my life.

In remembrance…

“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

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Robert Sturman
A dedicated Yoga practitioner, photographer Robert Sturman has increasingly focused on capturing the timeless grace and embodied mindfulness of asana in his work. His portraits, whether set in the lively streets of Manhattan, the expansive beaches and canyons of Malibu, the timeless elegance of Walden's New England, or the bleakness of Marin County's San Quentin Prison, remind us that there is beauty everywhere. In Sturman's own words, "I often think of Rumi's words, 'I can't stop pointing to the beauty.' That feels right to me." Sturman's honors include Official Artist of the 47th Annual Grammy Awards, 2010 FIFA World Cup Artist Representing America, and Official Artist 2007 United States Olympics. In 2012 and 2013, Sturman was the subject of two separate New York Times articles celebrating his photographs of Yoga from around the world. You can find out more about Robert’s work at his online studio and connect with him via Facebook and Twitter.
Robert Sturman