Letter From Rael

by Rael Isacowitz

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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.


17 Responses to “Letter From Rael”

  1. Stella says:

    What a wonderful example of how love and respect can exist in two culturally diverse beings. Thank you for sharing and be an example for all.

  2. Adriana says:

    Thank you Rael for such inspiring words

  3. Carrie Smith says:

    Oh my….what a needed ray of hope in such a dark time. Here’s to the small things….friendship, respect, love…and Pilates…that can change the world! Cudos to you and Cengiz Han for leading the way.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Rael,
    Hello Rael,

    Thank you so much for the wonderful news letter. I find them always so inspirational and I had to share that with you.
    One thing that I found in pilates too, besides of perseverance and hard work are the relationships and friendships. I believe people touch our lives and once they touch your lives we are changed forever, so thank you for sharing your story about Hans.
    During this Christmas holiday I was in Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area in Florida. It was difficult to find pilates but I found and trained at the oldest and premiere pilates studio with the studio owner and teacher who is trained by first-generation teacher Lolita San Miguel! Our lives were touched and I thought exactly what you experienced. Our spirits were bonded. It is people like you and her that is so encouraging as I continue and persevere in Pilates myself. And of course it has been such a blessing to be one of your students and to actually have you as my teacher!

    Warm wishes, blessings and wishes for a great 2015!

  5. Alexandra says:

    So Great – thank you!

  6. Sondra says:

    Knowing you both, and the love and respect you share for each other, your words touch my heart and soul deeply. Thank you for sharing the many levels of passion you posess.

  7. Wonderfully said! Continue to spread the love, joy, and the friendships that we all find from our love of Pilates!

  8. Dear Rael!
    These words are very special for me! Such an honor and privileged to have met you, Adelle and Elan, and become family!
    You teach us so much to all of us around you by being a humble, respectful, humanist man.
    Thank you brother!
    Yours truly,
    Cengiz Han Ucgun

  9. Myriam Kane says:

    So beautifully stated. And how true. We are all born with nothing and leave with nothing. What we choose to do with that time in between…to love and respect each other in spite of our differences, to make a difference through our actions…that’s what matters. Thank you for sharing, you are both truly beautiful and light emitting humans.

  10. Mutiara says:

    were all different, but in the end, we are all just the same.

  11. PJ says:

    Very touching and inspiring!

  12. CJ says:


    You have truly touched my heart with your letter. Pilates and being part of the BASI family have been more rewarding than I ever thought possible. I am so thankful to learn from all of inspiring men and women in this community.

  13. Andrea Clements Smith says:

    This is beautiful Rael. After spending some time with the two of you I can see very clearly the love and closeness between you two. And I imagine that having such a man in your world is a great gift. A well deserved one. It’s always a gift to learn from you.


  14. Jody Stern says:

    Dear Rael, yet again I am touched deeply by your heartfelt words! Your relationship, and that of your two families, crosses barriers that others would not dream to cross, but what a different world IF ONLY…
    The love, respect and passion that pours from your being and touches so many on all levels is such a gift. I am so grateful to hear your voice in my head and am inspired daily by your example! I hope to meet Cengiz Han one day!
    Sending much love and gratitude!

  15. Gaynor says:

    Love and respect shine brightly! Thank you for sharing.

  16. lori says:

    Such a beautiful story to share and it was a blessing to learn from both of you Rael, with you teachings and Cengiz with your insight as to how Pilates is embraced on a international level. last month in the ProBridge course. Thank you I feel enriched by this experience to enhance my pilates career.

  17. Susan says:

    It so warms my heart to see your photo and to read your letter. We must be reminded that no matter what colour, religion or politics you hold we can all still live together with love and respect. Thanks for sharing.

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