By COLlive reporter
Marc Asnin has as lot of patience. He spent thirty years documenting his schizophrenic uncle Charlie, which has won him all of the most prestigious photo journalist awards including the winner of the RFK Photography Award and best photo book of the year by Time Magazine. As he delves into the lives of those that direct Chabad centers across the globe, he is being patient.
While he has been to, among many other places, Siberia, Haiti, Beijing, Tijuana and Portland, he still is not done. His project is in tribute to the perseverance of Chabad after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, where the Holtzbergs and their guests were brutally murdered.
In an article in the Pesach issue of the Nshei Newsletter, he describes how it all began, “In 2008, on that dreadful morning in which I learned of the massacre in Mumbai’s Chabad House, I called People Magazine and asked to be assigned to Crown Heights. At the emotional, unforgettable press conference at the Jewish Children’s Museum, I felt incredibly angry that more Jewish blood had been spilled.
“A while later, I learned that Chabad was not going to capitulate to terrorism, and planned to rebuild Chabad of Mumbai. I felt that my contribution to the memory of the Holtzbergs of Mumbai was to finally bring to life my idea of a coffee table book on Chabad.
“I met my partners on the project, Josh Herman, the reporter who is interviewing the people in my photos, and Dovid Zaklikowski, my rabbi and spiritual brother, and we spent many hours at the offices of Chabad.org mapping out the book.
“As the project moves on, Dovid now serves as the producer and editorial consultant and, together, we sought the deeper tales of contemporary Chabad. This book is not about the Rabbis and Rebbetzins, but about Jews, like me, whom they have embraced with unconditional love.”
Chabad is nothing new to Mr. Asnin, who photographed the Rebbe for the New York Times Magazine cover story in honor of the Rebbe’s ninetieth birthday.
“When I began the assignment, I knew little of the Rebbe’s global impact. Despite being one of the most famous rabbis of the generation, the Rebbe was approachable, and I was able to photograph with ease.”
Over the past five years Marc has travelled across the globe under the guidance of Rabbi Zaklikowski, the director of Lubavitch Archives. His photos tell not only of the wonderful work that the Shluchim do, but how deeply they have touched the lives of those they have come into contact with.
“Over the last five years,” he writes, “I have traveled to far-flung places like Siberia, Cuba, Dominican Republic and China. I have learned that in each location, the Jewish community struggles with unique issues. In Siberia, the effects of Communism are evident, as Jews are slowly continuing to emerge and reclaim their Judaism. In places like Cuba, where there is freedom of religion, the Jewish community suffers economically. The Chabad emissaries learn to tap into the needs of their community, and embrace the unique cultural proclivities innate to that location.”
Asnin who is currently raising the funds to continue the project, has garnered wide praise for his already very large body of work on Chabad. “This book is a testament to the Jewish spirit,” says attorney Alan Dershowitz, “of refusing to submit to the fear of evil, even when walking in the valley of the shadow of death. Chabad always chooses life.”
The award winning author of Jewish Literacy, Joseph Telushkin, says that, “There are people who convey their love of Jews and of Judaism through words, those who do so through actions, those who do so through teaching holy texts, and then there is Marc Asnin who does so through his camera lens. This book is its own sort of holy text, showing a love of Jews from the four corners of the earth. The book fills one with a sense of nostalgia, hope and joy.”
“Marc Asnin, with great talent, has uniquely captured the unique approach and mission of each and every emissary he encountered,” says Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch which oversees the Shlichus network.
“Perusing these photos, one sees not only the masterwork of superb photography, but also a great underlying message for us to all take to heart: Reach out with love to your fellows and give them a hand in their physical and spiritual needs. These breathtaking images prove over and over that barriers between one individual and another are only superficial; I am amazed at how they project the soul and beauty of true love.”
Learn more about the project at alightamongthenations.com