Israeli spas may be just the thing for what ails you

Miracles in the Holy Land aren’t only of a spiritual nature. Israel also boasts a long list of spas with amazing healing properties.

Here’s a look at some appealing and pampering clinics. They all offer mineral-rich mud packs and other treatments to ease sore muscles, arthritis pain, asthma, psoriasis, eczema and other conditions. Of course, they also remedy ailments of the spirit.

Carmel Forest Spa Resort

Hidden among pine trees at the peak of Haifa — a northern city stretching from the Mediterranean to a mountain top — Carmel Forest Spa is a former sanitarium for Holocaust survivors. Renovated in recent years, it is now the definition of luxury.

Carmel Forest Spa is only accessible by private car or cab, but once you arrive, there is little reason to leave due to the lectures, concerts and various kinds of exercise options that include fitness walks, tai chi, yoga, meditation, aerobics and even swimming lessons. Rooms all have a view of the sea or the forest and are stocked with plush robes that cam be worn everywhere. Meals include options for low-fat and low-sodium dishes and dining on a verandah overlooking the Mediterranean.

Nearly every imaginable treatment, such as mud wraps, cranio-sacral balance and body peeling with water jets, are available. But the pinnacle is a 75-minute, four-handed ayurvedic massage ($115), an Indian treatment intended to calm the mind and eliminate toxins from the body.

The spa also boasts a beautiful mosaic on the floor of an Olympic-size swimming pool and an adjacent Jacuzzi. In the coed marble Turkish bath, visitors — clad in bathing suits — scrub down with complimentary disposable loofas or enjoy a massage.

In the afternoons, guests munch on complimentary cakes and blend their own herbal infusions in the lounge upstairs. The evenings feature lectures and concerts, or you can enjoy dinner on the veranda and then relax in the lounge.
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Dead Sea

The shores of the lowest place on earth are stocked with spas. And the Dead Sea, at 1,378 feet below sea level, fills the spas’ pools with unique, mineral-rich waters that are calming and curative for skin disorders, arthritis and respiratory ailments. You can also give yourself a do-it-yourself spa treatment by spending a few hours at the separate beaches for men and women south of the hotel strip.

At the women’s beach, for example, the “sand” inside the seawater is actually consistently clean salt. While standing in low water, you can relax as if sitting in a recliner. Because of the incredibly high salt content, guests float with great ease. Tiny cuts in your skin sting, but if you can, try to remain in the water for at least 20 minutes to soothe achy muscles and joints.

If you’re up for it, scoop up the salt sand in your hands and rub it over your skin for a “salt glow.” This is the same kind of exfoliating treatment offered at local spas.

If you’d like to try the classic mud of the Dead Sea, stop at any of the local shops, where you can pick up a package of smooth and creamy mud for a few dollars. Place it in the sun while you soak to warm it up.

After you emerge from your first dunk, rinse off in freshwate
r at a beachside shower, then smooth on the mud. After it dries completely, return to the sea to rinse off, rubbing your skin clean with a second round of exfoliation. Rinse once more in the freshwater and your skin will be remarkably soft. Wrap yourself up in towels and relax in the sun.

Because the Dead Sea is at the lowest point on earth, you can stay much longer in the sun without burning than at any other place on the planet.

Give Her a Rest

Fact: 54 percent of Americans worry about their daily stress levels.

Stress instigates anxiety disorders. Medically categorized as “neuroses,” these nonpsychotic mental illnesses trigger feelings of uncomfortable inner emotional apprehension that dominate perception and impair thinking, judgment and functioning, even though there is no identifiable threat. The stress response to ambiguous danger activates what physiologist Walter Cannon termed “fight or flight.” Hard-wired into the brain, this mechanism releases chemicals from nerve cell sequences for anticipated combat or escape.

Although there is no identifiable threat, more than half our population experiences daily life as if there were. To quote Leviticus 26:18, stress disorders cause us to “flee when no one pursues.”

Deluded to believe our survival is being threatened, we exist in fight-or-flight mode: pulses quicken, blood diverts from the digestive and reproductive systems into hands and legs, and short-term thinking over-rides rationality. “Terror … consume[s] the eyes” (Leviticus 26:16) as pupils dilate in narrowed perception of a reality where anyone may perpetrate. The autonomic nervous system creates “consumption and fever” as flushing, sweating and reduced immunity, and “sorrow to the heart” (Leviticus 26:16) as chest pains or angina.

God’s warnings of consequence for disrespecting His orders in Behar-Bechukotai read like a psychiatric diagnosis manual’s symptom list for neurotic stress disorders. The Israelites are beseeched to provide a “Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord” (Leviticus 25:4) every seventh year by not working Her. She is the Mother Earth: the Divine consort of Source. If disrespected; if misogynistic, ego-based desires for ownership or affluence give precedence to any “thing” over everything; “the sound of a shaken leaf will chase them and they will flee, as fleeing from a sword” (Leviticus 26:37).

We are paying the penalty for despising the Divine’s statutes. God warned that our “strength will be spent in vain”: while the human body is capable of withstanding considerable levels and durations of stress, eventually, sustained depleted energy reserves cause chronic fatigue, stamina and muscle loss, and brain cell toxicity.

He presaged we would: “sow [our] seed in vain” (Leviticus 26:16) — average sperm count decreased 42 percent since 1940; and that our “skies [would be] like iron and our earth like copper” (Leviticus 26:18-20). In 1990, scientists discovered copper contamination in 7,000-year-old layers of ice in Greenland glacial caps and widespread copper smelting in the Bronze Age released enough copper into the atmosphere to contaminate ice thousands of miles away, causing iron-colored pollution and a poisoned ecosystem.

We have abhorred our Father and, more pertinently, exploited our Mother.

Persistence will ultimately render our heartbroken earth “forsaken by [us]” as She finally takes her Sabbaths “while she lies desolate without [us]” (Leviticus 26:43), mourning the children that deserted her in selfish greed.

Either way, Mother Earth must rest. She cannot bear the weight of our collectively disowned femininity much longer; Her burnout from such repression is inevitable, Her sabbatical inexorable. She implores us to attend to her … before we disintegrate.

Physical systems must rest, in testament that no “thing” really matters. No thing restores wholeness. No amount of force compensates for an equal measure of submission.

Quick-fix prescriptions that inhibit symptoms and disregard underlying causes only exaggerate the very dependencies, weaknesses and insecurities we resist acknowledging.

We must sanctify Shechinah: Source’s indestructible other half. She is the intuitive, the deep, the changeable; She is the sensual, the vulnerable, the dependent, the receivable. She is the passionate, nurturing, indistinguishable dream of darkness from which the light is borne. She is earth beyond reclaim. She must rest.

Cardiologist Herbert Benson discovered an antidote for neurotic stress disorders: the “relaxation response” hard-wired in the brain, releases neurochemicals almost precisely counteractive of “fight or flight.” Induced by practices of consciousness, presence or surrender, it stabilizes brain waves and lowers blood pressure and pulse rates.

Nothing is what God commanded we do with earth every seventh year. Nothing is the reverence of Everything; it is Shabbat: the Jewish relaxation response that celebrates the completion, satisfaction and wholeness defined by the word shevah (seven in Hebrew). Sheva is the perfection of the manifest universe reflected upon.

Revering Goddess is something we literally cannot stress about. We need only let Her be — within and without. And through our retreat, Her beloved, protective mate will shower His grateful providence into our relinquishment that we too may return to the peace we have co-created.

Now that’s a fact.

Rabbi Karen Deitsch works as a freelance officiant and lecturer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at

Scheduled Relaxation

Last Sunday afternoon I was standing in my shower scrubbing my tile. It suddenly occurred to me — in the midst of Ajax and scouring pads — that the man who was ruling my fantasies was on a plane coming back from a sure-it’s-professional junket in Las Vegas.

Something was wrong with this picture. I dropped my sponge and ran to call my girlfriend: “Hey. You gotta help me. All of this straight-and-narrow is getting to me. I need to have some fun.”

We met at a local restaurant reminiscent of the hip, urban San Francisco eateries of our 20s, had a drink, stayed late, and laughed as the waiter batted his lashes.

“Listen,” I told her over martinis. “I think I’ve forgotten how to play.”

She looked at me with the knowing eyes of a friend and said, “Me too. I feel like all I do is work on myself. Where’s the friggin’ fun part?”

What occurred to me as I started thinking about it is that I used to rely on my relationship life to have fun. I’d fly to New York, run around the city, eat passionately with my boyfriend for 10 days and come home. I’d rush home from work, throw all my clothes on the floor, don a slinky dress and feverishly drive to the beach for a drink date. I’d hike up Runyan Canyon in the middle of a storm with my dating man, laugh uproariously and kiss in the rain. It was flash and dash, delight and joy — and sometimes even love. What is was was fun.

I relied on my relationship life for downtime, too. It was the time I hung out in bed, took the slow walk around my neighborhood, had the morning-after breakfast made sloppily and slowly between intimacies.

But lately all of that has been different. I stopped dating for a while altogether (no need to go into the now-mercifully distant reason why), and in the wake of a more careful re-entry into dating life, I’ve become a project girl. Creative things that I’ve been longing to express my whole adult life I’ve taken on like a conquest. I write, I paint, I sing, I cook and I songwrite. It’s rich and it’s full and it’s fulfilling.

But what it also is is busy. And beyond my projects and an involved social life, there seems to be no genuine relaxation time. There are no goof-off, just-for-fun days where there’s nothing to do but play. I’m not sure I even remember what play-time looks like anymore.

Yet — to be totally honest — when I think back on some of those play-time, nostalgia-inducing boyfriend experiences, I have to admit that as sweet and easy as those encounters could be, they were just as often peppered by the nervous tension of “being together” when we weren’t all the way there, or by the dodging and ducking of using our intimate connection to mask other, bigger incompatibilities. That wasn’t relaxing.

As the years have gone by, I realize I’d just as soon be alone than continue to go through cycles of head-spinning effort with someone in exchange for a couple of moments of grace. So I don’t do that anymore. And though this kind of spiritual honesty has created an ease in my nervous system (and a welcome death to that horrible intimate uncertainty of giving myself where it’s not appreciated), I have to stop and wonder, have I become overworked and underplayed?

I don’t want to say that getting rid of the -isms has gotten rid of the fun part. That’s not it. But there’s something here about playing and free-falling joy that I’m missing. Something in the enjoyment of what is already here, versus the pregnant push of needing to create it. To observe, appreciate, enjoy, relax, and receive. That’s what I’m missing. And now that I’m officially dating, it seems kind of imperative to bring this ethic back onto the playing field.

I was on my cell with my wise girlfriend yesterday — the one who gives me that uncannily timed girl-advice that saves me from giving in to my idiotic post-second-date fears — and three times in row she cut out at a pivotal word.

“What?” I intoned. “On my cell. You cut out.”

She laughed outloud: “Receive, sweetheart. It kills me that you missed that. Relax and receive!”

Oh, that.

If I’ve forgotten how to have downtime, if I’ve joined the ranks of the over-diligent in my efforts to not fall into wary paths of love, then it’s time to loosen the reigns a bit. Underplaying means I have to let go of my project-queen, art-making cottage-industry, and just be done for a while.

So, with the grace of personal discovery, I’ll be amending that busy behavior, whether I’m accompanied or not. It’s time to enjoy whoever I’m seeing, and have fun on my own. It’s time to let go, go slow, play, hang out and take some time to do absolutely nothing.

Even if it means I have to schedule it.

JoAnneh Nagler is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She writes articles, philanthropic proposals and has recently been at work on Fox’s telenovellas “Table for Three” and “Fashion House.” Her newly completed folk-pop CD “I Burn” is online at

Home Pampering Easy as 1, 2, Ahhhhh

No one deserves a spa experience more than you do. Just picture it — warm tubs scented with essential oils, invigorating body scrubs, refreshing botanical blend face masks smoothed on in soothing circular massaging motions and misty showers with luscious gels.

Sound divine? You bet. Millions of people are embracing the spa experience — taking what was formerly an exclusive pleasure of the rich and famous and turning it into a health and wellness phenomenon.

Millions of spa-goers must be on to something. But why limit all that good stuff to the precious times you can book at a spa? Why not have a spa experience whenever you choose?

It’s easier than you think to have sensual and sensational spa experiences in your own home, on your own time.

Create an Inviting Environment for the Senses

“The first step is to create an environment for your spa experience,” said Susan Kirsch, owner of Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa in Toronto, Canada. “Remember to incorporate all of your senses.”

Since water is an important part of most treatments, the bathroom is a good place to create your home spa, Kirsch said. All it takes is a little imagination.

A really simple way to transform any regular bathroom, she said, is to soften the lights.

“Have a dimmer installed on the light switch,” Kirsch said. “Just dim the lights and light some candles to turn an everyday bathroom into something that looks a bit more special.”

If a warm, bubbling bath is your idea of heaven, consider having a hot tub installed in your backyard, on your deck or inside your house. Currently, more than 5 million households now own a hot tub and by the end of this year, roughly 400,000 Americans are expected to purchase a hot tub for their homes, according to a recent study by the National Spa and Pool Institute in Alexandria, Va.

“Some people think a hot tub is a luxury item. I think it’s a necessity,” Andrea Martone said. “And my husband and daughters feel the same way. It’s much better to relax and de-stress in a hot tub after dinner than to sit in front of the television set. Sometimes we use it together. We light candles and chat. And sometimes I use it by myself — to meditate or just go to another place in my mind.”

Prices on hot tubs, according to the National Spa and Pool Institute, range from between $2,500 to more than $10,000 (plus installation costs). The average price is about $5,500.

Just as certain sounds can unsettle us, other sounds can help us achieve a sense of calm. Kirsch likes to use music that’s soothing and relaxing at her spa and during her at-home spa treatments — “something that’s appropriate for a healing environment,” she said.

She says she often plays the music of singer Enya.

“Choose whatever works for you,” she said.

For Martone, it’s the splashing sounds of water.

“I’ve got little waterfall fountains all over my house,” Martone said. “They bring a sense of calm to whatever room they’re in. My daughter even has one in her room for doing homework.”

Martone is a New York City publicist and co-founder of Spa-Daze, a company that provides professional spa treatments and services for groups of four or more in the setting of your choice — including your home.

Martone also suggests burning essential oils to set a relaxing tone for an at-home spa experience. She recommends using a 50/50 mix of your favorite essential oils and water for a scent that’s noticeable but not overpowering.

“Different scents can help create different moods,” she said. “For example, lavender is very calming to the senses and nice to burn at night before going to sleep. And oils like eucalyptus and peppermint are soothing — especially if you’re ill — and can help you breathe easier.”

Choose Your Products

If you are a spa devotee, you may already be one step closer to recreating your spa experience at home. Many spas sell the products they use in their treatments — facial masks, exfoliates, bath and shower gels, lotions and more. At Kirsch Cosmetic Clinic and Spa, staff members will custom mix body scrubs and other beauty potions for guests. So if you’ve had a particularly divine professional treatment, buy the product to use at home. You can conjure up your fond memory of that experience as relaxation therapy.

When shopping for new products for your home spa, buy in small quantities — especially if you have sensitive skin, said Carrie Pierce of Ecco Bella Botanicals of Wayne, N.J. Ecco Bella, which means “behold beauty” in Italian, is a line of natural, gentle-to-the-skin cosmetics and skin care products that use medicinal-grade essential oils.

“It’s important to have the luxury of trying a new product or scent without making a huge and perhaps costly commitment,” she said.

For that reason, Ecco Bella offers smaller, lower-priced “try me” sizes of their scented bath and shower gels, lotions, parfums and fizz therapy bath marbles.

It’s important to find scents formulated to enhance the experience you’re trying to create in your home spa, Pierce said.

Then revel in them. For example, lemon verbena has a reputation as a mood-lifting, feel-good scent. And vanilla reputedly has an aphrodisiac-like effect on men — “second only to the scent of pumpkin pie,” Pierce said.

“Layering your selected scent by using a gel, lotion — maybe spraying a little parfum on your pillow — is a luxurious way to take care of yourself and to take your spa experience with you,” she said.

Formulate a Plan

Don’t try to do too much all at once, Kirsch advised.

“Remember, your primary goal is to feel relaxed and pampered,” she said.

For a simple and luxurious home spa experience Kirsch recommends the following head-to-toe regime.

You can begin one of two ways — either by covering your head with a towel and lightly steaming your face over a basin filled with boiling water or by gently swabbing your face with a warm, damp towel.

“Your choice,” Kirsch said. “If you want to go the simple route, the warm, damp towel works just fine.”

The next step is to exfoliate — or slough off — dead skin cells.

“The skin has a natural turnover of cells. When you exfoliate, you just help that natural process along,” Kirsch said.

When choosing a product, remember exfoliates generally come in two forms — gel and grain.

“The gel form is less invasive and may be good to start out with,” Kirsch said.

Apply in circular massaging motions with your fingertips. Leave the exfoliate on until it feels tacky and almost dry. Then slough it off with the flat part of your fingers. Rinse with water.

Next, apply a mask in the same circular massaging motions.

“It’s important to choose one that’s formulated for your skin type,” Kirsch said. For example, if your skin is dry, you’ll want to use a hydrating mask.

While the mask does it’s magic, draw a warm bath.

“Put a drop or two of essential oils in the water,” Kirsch said. “Soak for a while in the bath, then exfoliate with a body scrub. Try using a loofah mitt and massage in circular motions.”

Then rinse and be careful getting out of the tub since it will be slippery. Apply a moisturizing body lotion.

It’s important to wait 48 hours after shaving or waxing before using a body scrub and don’t use it on any areas that have cuts or nicks.

Remove your mask by rinsing with lukewarm water. Apply a moisturizer using circular massaging motions — and don’t forget your neck.

Use pumice to smooth away hard or rough spots and calluses on your toes, heels and the bottoms of your feet. Apply a moisturizer.

“Give your regular moisturizer an enriching boost by breaking open a Vitamin E capsule and mixing it into the lotion,” Kirsch said.

The final step in your at home spa experience, Kirsch said, is to climb into your bed, nestle under the comfy covers and listen to music for a while.

“You should feel totally rejuvenated and stress free,” she said.

And if for some reason you don’t, you can try again — and again — until you get the hang of it. In this case, there’s absolutely no harm in trying.

“These lovely things you can do at home for yourself can really elevate the quality of your life,” Pierce said. “They can make a woman feel sexy, cherished, valued, calm and better able to cope. They allow you to embrace yourself.”

Beth Gilbert is a New York-based writer.

The Heart of Time

What books must every Jew read? What books are critical to informing your understanding of your faith, your culture, your people? With this issue, The Jewish Journal introduces a new weekly column: My Jewish Library. We’ve asked rabbis, scholars and thinkers to each pick the one book that was essential to their Jewish life. They will discuss the book and its impact, and explain why you need to add it to your Jewish library. You can join the discussion in our online forum. You can also purchase the book for yourself by clicking the link below.

For the rest of this year, My Jewish Library will replace the weekly Torah portion. Readers (and b’nai mitzvah students) in search of the weekly Torah portion will find several years worth archived and easily accessible at

Click here to buy this book

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“The Sabbath” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, illustrated by Ilya Schor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975).

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his classic, “The Sabbath”: “There are few ideas … which contain so much spiritual power as the idea of the Sabbath.” His book draws from and reflects that power, which is why I have recommended it more often, and with more life-changing results, than any book other than the Bible.

I generally explain Shabbat by identifying some key laws and customs. On Shabbat, we wear lovely clothing, set a beautiful table and eat the best foods. Parents bless children; spouses bless one another. We enjoy the delights of naps, walks, meditation, singing, pleasure reading and lovemaking. We spend unhurried time with family, community and God. No errands. No commercialism. No petitions for more. Shabbat is a time to rejuvenate and re-soul.

I hate to be a stickler, but these are the rules.

When Shabbat is thus described, we readily understand why the ancient rabbis called it “a taste of the world to come.” But while my description is accurate, many Jews have a very different impression of Shabbat. They see it as restrictive: no cooking, no travel, no carrying. For kids, traditional observance means no TV, no computer, no coloring, no bike riding.

Heschel explains the love and meaning behind Shabbat restrictions. Melacha (labor eschewed on Shabbat) includes all energies used to manage creation, rather than accept and enjoy it as we find it. Even activities that foster relaxation or reduce physical labor are prohibited, if they generate something new. Obviously, creating and manipulating creation can be beneficial. In fact, we are commanded to do melacha six days out of seven. But one day is for menucha (Sabbath rest). This involves more than cessation of labor or collapse in front of the television. Menucha is what God created on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2) — an active, affirmative form of rest where “the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.”

Menucha is restorative, but that is its consequence, not its purpose.

“Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for … enhancing the efficiency of his work.”

For Heschel, Shabbat is “the climax of living…. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit form the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.”

Sabbath prohibitions, associated with the commandment to keep the Sabbath, are meant to keep Shabbat different from the other days. Shabbat connects us to family and community by first unplugging us from business and technology. The “thou shalt nots” are designed to create space for something distinctive and holy to enter.

And that is precisely where the “thou shalt” commandments come in. They help create the oneg (pleasure, delight) of Shabbat. Reflecting the commandment to remember the Sabbath, the “thou shalt’s” remind us of Shabbat’s ultimate meaning as sign and covenant. Shabbat is simultaneously the source and culmination of creation. We imitate God, who rested and called Shabbat not just good, but holy. We recall the Exodus from Egypt, in that Shabbat grants us a measure of freedom. “Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things as well as from domination of people,” Heschel writes. Shabbat confers liberty by commanding independence from technology, routine, acquisitions, even civilization itself.

It is difficult to explain how Shabbat feels to those who observe and love it. As someone who has taught and written about Jewish ritual, I have come to know, perhaps better than most, the limits of language to convey the experience of ritual. A tractate on lighting Friday night candles can offer valuable background and even wisdom, but it will never yield the personal and deep insights gained by simply and consistently lighting candles.

Heschel has a way of explaining Shabbat that makes you want to observe it — if not with all the traditional restrictions, then certainly as a holy and distinctive day. His lush language conveys the depth and beauty of Shabbat, which he calls “spirit in the form of time,” “homeland, source, and destination,” “resurrection of the soul,” even “our mate.” For Heschel, the answer to our search for meaning lies in finding the balance between weekday and Shabbat, productivity and renewal, having and being. The goal is “to work with things of space [during the week] but to be in love with eternity [through Shabbat].”

This may be Heschel’s most important idea: that Shabbat, and Judaism in general, find holiness in time more than in space. Shabbat is our “cathedral in time.” In Heschel’s beautiful words: “Monuments of stone are destined to disappear; days of spirit never pass away…. We cannot solve the problem of time through the conquest of space, though either pyramids or fame. We can only solve the problem of time through the sanctification of time…. We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things…. All week long we are called upon to sanctify life through employing things of space. On the Sabbath it is given us to share in the holiness that is in the heart of time.”

Rabbi Debra Orenstein is spiritual leader of Makom Ohr Shalom synagogue in Encino and editor of “Lifecycles 1: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones” (Jewish Lights, 1994).