I love this picture of my friend Cengiz Han and I. Anyone can see this is a picture of two men who share great affection for each other. But there is so much more this picture exemplifies. As the world is tormented by violence and extreme ideologies this picture reflects love, hope and mutual respect.
Cengiz Han is Turkish, lived much of his early life in Lebanon and is a practicing Muslim. I am American and Israeli, I spent my early life in South Africa and I am Jewish, more culturally than religiously, but certainly I have a strong Jewish identity. I served in the Israeli Defense Force and my family lives in Israel. Clearly in light of today’s political climate our backgrounds are not the ideal foundation for a good, close friendship.
Cengiz Han and I first met when I was presenting at a conference in Athens. He, and a contingent from Turkey, attended. Toward the end of the lecture I demonstrated some exercises, including Hanging Front on the Cadillac. I asked if anyone would like to try it. Cengiz Han eagerly volunteered. Despite being a very strong (and extremely handsome) man, he did not succeed completely. He persevered for some time and then humbly conceded he had to practice and still had a lot to learn. There was an immediate spark between us.
Persevere he did. He attended a program called “Passing the Torch”, followed by doing the BASI Comprehensive Teacher Training Course. Since then he has attended multiple courses of all levels including BASI Pilates Ultimate, a rigorous 3-phase course; Mentor, Master and Master Reunion and recently was my assistant on the Master Program. He is a BASI Faculty member and the Licensee for Turkey. Last year he tirelessly traveled to 5 countries with me and supported me during a grueling schedule. Cengiz Han has become one of the best male movers I have ever had the pleasure of working with.
Despite Pilates being the catalyst that brought us together, it is respect and love that has cemented our friendship – today we are soul brothers. Our families love spending time together. Adelle, my wife, and Ceylan, Cengiz Han’s wife, are like sisters, and hopefully our sons will share the same bond. Oktay, Ceylan’s father, treats Elan (my son) like a grandson, and certainly Elan views him as such.
Two years ago, when my mother was in her last hours and Adelle, Elan and I were flying to Israel, we had a 7-hour layover in Istanbul. It was excruciating, as I knew it was touch and go whether we would ever see my dear mother again. Ceylan, Oktay and Cengiz Han picked us up from the airport, spent time with us, and took us back to the airport, supporting us during this desperate time of emotional need. Tragically my mother passed away 2 hours before we reached Israel. But the love of my Turkish family helped support us through this difficult time.
I am sharing these personal stories because I believe they offer a beacon of light for a fragmented world. Pilates has filled more than half of my 60-year life. It has provided me with a career and a livelihood. It has rewarded me in more ways than I could ever recount. On the day of the recent march in Paris, I received a comment through Pilates Anytime from a woman in Paris who had just done one of my mat classes and expressed how it had helped her through the day. It was an honor to feel that in some small way I was present in Paris during one of the most significant moments in recent history, a moment when the world was galvanized against tyranny. I am grateful for all Pilates has given me, yet the greatest gifts have little to do with the Pelvic Curl, Single Leg Stretch or Teaser – they have to do with friendships, respect and love.