Me, naked at a Berlin spa


When I was in Berlin last year, I decided to go to a spa.

My entire life, I’d read how famous Europeans “took the waters” to restore their health and psyches. Kafka recuperated at Marienbad, Goethe at Franzensbad, Dickens at Harrogate. Herzl summered at Altaussee, as did many Jewish families — until Goebbels did.

I had a free afternoon in Berlin, so I did what Kafka would do if he were alive. I Yelped “spas Berlin.”

That led me to the Thermen am Europa-Center, off a busy street near the massive KaDeWe department store.

Inside, I paid the modest entrance fee to a man at a desk, then guessed at his instructions. If you’ve been to City Spa on Pico, the original L.A. shvitz, or any of the Korean saunas, you already know the routine. Pay, get a locker key, shower, sauna, plunge, repeat. Signs in German and English read, “No Bathing Suits Allowed,” which are also forbidden in K-town.

The door from the locker room opened onto a huge indoor-outdoor spa area, and immediately I noticed that a man who turned to watch me enter — was not a man.

It turns out Thermen am Europa, like many European spas, is coed. I had heard such things exist, but, even so, I wasn’t quite prepared for the shock — picture my face as a bad outtake from “Porky’s,” when the hapless teen opens the door to the wrong locker room.

But, there I was — and I resolved at that moment that I, too, would be a Berliner.

To my right were the showers. I soaped up next to, basically, my bubbe. The elderly, zaftig woman seemed completely unfazed by the tall naked man beside her — in fact, over the next three hours, the only person who ever lost his composure was me.

The spa occupies an entire floor of a building, as well as an outdoor area. It has a massive, warm pool that circulates inside and out. It has two very hot whirlpool plunges and two icy cold plunges. Outside, along with the extended pool, there are small steam rooms that look like Bavarian cottages. There is a women’s-only area that was small and, from what I could tell, unused, as well as a large cafe overlooking the pool.

The dozens of men and women dipping and shmoozing their way around the spotlessly clean facilities ranged from young adult to where-were-you-during-the-war. Wearing just my locker key on a small chain around my wrist, I eventually lost my self-consciousness. A room full of 100 or so nude people of different ages, shapes and sizes is a great equalizer. With nothing to hide, and nothing to hold, I soon felt fully at ease among my fellow homo sapiens

The highlights of Thermen am Europa are two wood-lined saunas, each the size of a small living room. Inside, men and women sit on tiered benches. An attendant occasionally comes in and throws water, scented with some fragrant herbs, over the hot stones. Hot steam billows up, giving everyone a nice, soft-focus sheen.

I sat back and inhaled — taking the mist deep into my lungs. The sauna filled with people. Being Germans, they were hearty and happy — chatting, joking. At one point, a middle-aged couple entered and a group of bathers cheered and rose to greet them, like old friends. They hugged and gave one another two-cheek kisses — and only then it dawned on me — they are all butt-naked. 

More people entered. More happy greetings. It was like an all-nude episode of “Cheers.” Not an inch of space separated our bodies. I closed my eyes and listened to the Germans laugh and talk. Maybe it was the heat, but it all felt otherworldly, dreamy. Strange, inevitable thoughts swirled in my mind: How could these people have been thosepeople? Seventy years ago, who could have imagined this moment? Human beings, for good or ill, are unfathomable to we mere mortals. But naked among Germans, I felt deep in my bones the way things are is never the way they have to be.

Back outside, I showered and walked to my locker. That’s when I reached down and realized — no key.

My hands ran over my nonexistent pockets. My mind reeled at what I had left in my locker: cash, credit cards, cellphone, passport.

Without thinking, I rushed back to the last place I’d been, that sauna. I pushed open the door, and said, loudly, “Has anyone seen a key? Key? KEY!”

And that’s when 40 nude Germans stopped talking, stopped laughing and looked up at me. I was framed in the doorway, naked as the day I was born, staring right back at them. And, yes, it occurred to me in that instant, circumcised.

Now the dream felt like a nightmare. Me. Naked. Yelling at dozens of Germans. Them staring at me.

Finally, thankfully, I heard a heavily accented female voice. “Lost and found,” she said. “In the cafe.” 

Panic trumped modesty — I turned and strode into the cafe. I asked the woman behind the counter if someone had found a key.

Only then did I realize the waitress was fully clothed, and all the cafe patrons were wearing thick white robes. I was basically streaking through their teatime.

The waitress scowled, but she gave me my key. I didn’t care. We are all just human, right? At least, until we're not. 

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Beauty of the Dead Sea makes a stunning wedding destination


Finding a truly unique wedding destination can be difficult. There are countless special wedding venues scattered around the world, but few offer the distinctive beauty and amenities of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on Earth. 

Although Ein Bokek, the Dead Sea’s hotel and tourism district, is less than a two-hour drive from Jerusalem (it’s possible to charter a bus to transport guests to and from the wedding the same day), some couples turn their Dead Sea weddings into a family adventure and spa vacation for a weekend or longer. 

Thanks to its warm climate, the Dead Sea is a sought-after wedding destination from midautumn to midspring, but definitely not in the summer, when the temperatures average 100 degrees or higher. It almost never rains, virtually ensuring that an outdoor wedding won’t be rained out.  

The area offers many additional sights for guests to enjoy, too. Must-see attractions include the hilltop fortress of Masada; the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered; and the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, with its hiking trails. 

Israeli wedding planner Nikki Fenton (nikkifenton.com) said that for couples with family coming from overseas, a Dead Sea wedding is like a destination within a destination. Before planning such a wedding, she added, couples need to sound out their guests. 

“The guests need to know that, if they’re in a hotel in the center of the country, they’ll need to pack up their things and move to a new location for a couple of days,” unless they want to pay for their first hotel while they’re away, or are staying in an apartment and can keep their belongings there. “If you can make it appealing and exciting and not a hassle, you can be on to a great thing,” Fenton said. 

At the Dead Sea, the sense of adventure can easily outweigh any drawbacks, provided everyone is on board and knows what to expect. As with any destination wedding, the couple should inform guests of their options, starting with the range of accommodations (especially price-wise), and activities related to and not related to the wedding.   

Many couples who marry at the Dead Sea do so at one of the area’s hotels, which offer not only a stunning wedding venue but also everything one needs for a spa holiday, starting with a buoyant swim in the sea (and, often, pools with Dead Sea water) and do-it-yourself mud treatments.  

The hotels also offer a wide variety of spa treatments, many with Dead Sea products, at prices below what comparable treatments cost in the United States. Some hotels offer a free treatment with an overnight stay, and large parties should request a discount on treatments for all their guests. Guests who choose to stay at nearby guesthouses or youth hostels have the option of buying a spa day-pass.   

Given the logistical challenges, couples wishing to marry at the Dead Sea should seriously consider utilizing the services of an event planner who can arrange everything, from the cuisine to who will officiate. 

Event planner Natalie Abraham, whose company, Dreamcatcher (natalieabrahamdreamcatcher.com), plans weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs throughout Israel, said some of the most interesting Dead Sea-area weddings take place in nature spots. 

Abraham once organized an intimate, offbeat wedding at Metsoke Dragot, a hostel with very basic accommodations — including tents — located on a cliff 65 feet above sea level, about four miles from the sea.

“It was a very small wedding, mostly for the couple’s friends. The chuppah was on the cliff, and the view of the sea and the desert was breathtaking. They got married just before sunset, and the colors — oranges and yellows and blues — were gorgeous.”   

What the venue lacked in luxury, it made up for in atmosphere, Abraham said. 

“The Dead Sea region has a very strong healing element. This force just overtakes you, and it’s very powerful.” 

Winter brings out Israel’s unique charms


Despite being about the size of New Jersey, Israel has a winter season that offers tourists a unique opportunity to experience the country’s mystical meteorological rollercoaster in different urban and suburban settings.

During the winter months, you can ski on the snow-clad slopes of Mount Hermon in Northern Israel in the early morning hours, hop a midday flight to Tel Aviv, where you can enjoy a delicious outdoor lunch along the Mediterranean beachfront in near-70 degree temperatures, then leisurely board an afternoon Jerusalem-bound train or bus in order to imbibe the crisp and mystifying evening air that envelops the holy city.

“Jerusalem is much more mysterious during the winter months, because most of the time the city is surrounded by fascinating clouds. But you won’t see more than one or two days of consecutive rain, or feel an icy chill running through your bones during the winter,” said Ilan Brenner, the Inbal Laromme Hotel’s executive assistant manager of marketing and sales. 

Jerusalem is also a mecca for thousands of families who jet over during the annual January winter break, in order to reconnect with siblings who attend the various post-high school yeshivot and universities in the metro region. 

“Celebrating Shabbat at a luxurious hotel and partaking in the lavish Mediterranean-themed buffet meals prepared by award- winning chefs, has in recent years become an annual rite for many visiting families and their friends,” Brenner said.

In trendy Tel Aviv, one hotel marketing executive remarked that she actually looks forward to the winter vacation period when “snowbirds” from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada quickly discard their puffy winter coats, change into summer shorts and sandals and make a beeline to the beachfront.

“I’ll be sitting at my desk, trying to warm myself up with a glass of hot tea, but for many of our guests 70-degree weather is warm enough for them to change into summer gear and head straight to the beach or nearby Dizengoff Street in order to do some serious shopping,” she said.

Almost all of the major five-star hotels highlight first-class spas and health clubs, where winter-themed treatments have also become a popular attraction.

Here’s a brief rundown of what some of the better-known hotels are offering tourists during the winter respite:

JERUSALEM

Inbal Laromme Hotel

The family-oriented hotel is promoting its “Triple Free” program, which includes a free Hertz rental car for each night’s stay, free parking at the hotel and free WiFi. The package requires a minimum three-night stay. The Inbal Jerusalem Hotel features a heated indoor pool as well as a renowned spa that rotates its menu of body and facial treatments for men and women. Inbal Jerusalem’s executive chef Moti Buchbut recently upgraded the menu in the hotel’s Sofia Restaurant, a fish, pasta and patisserie bistro. And the Inbal is the first hotel chain in Israel to offer tech-savvy guests a wide range of services via its online Digital Concierge application. inbalhotel.com.

Atrium lobby of Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental Hotel.

Dan Boutique Hotel

The impeccably designed facility highlights “Go Dan” five- and seven-night special packages through the end of February that are based on a bed and breakfast program. As the Dan Boutique is part of the large Dan hotel chain, which features impressive facilities across Israel, tourists can combine the “Go Dan” packages among various danhotels.com.

Mamilla Hotel

The city’s newest upscale hotel, located within the chic Mamilla shopping mall, is promoting a “Discover Jerusalem” winter program. Guests who book a double studio room will be entitled to dinner at the Mamilla Cafe during weekdays (fixed dairy menu) and/or dinner on weekends in the main dining room, plus a complimentary drink in the ultra-cool Mirror Bar. The package, which also includes free use of the gym or steam room, requires a minimum three-night stay and will not be available Dec. 19-27. mamillahotel.com.

TEL AVIV

David InterContinental Hotel

Extremely popular among business travelers, this hotel is located in Tel Aviv’s revitalized Neve Tzedek neighborhood. The city’s bustling Shuk HaCarmel outdoor market, trendy Sheinkin Street fashion stores and the historical Jaffa Port are all within walking distance. The beach is located directly across the street. The hotel boasts a remodeled business lounge and atrium lobby as well as several swanky bars and restaurants. intercontinental.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel and Towers

The newly renovated Sheraton Towers — a hotel within a hotel — offers a private reception area; a new lounge, including a private boardroom facility for meetings of up to eight participants; butler service; and other extra amenities. The hotel’s Olive Leaf signature restaurant, helmed by chef Charlie Fadida, is touted as one of the finest kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv. starwoodhotels.com.

Dan Tel Aviv

The legendary luxury hotel, which plays host to many prominent business moguls, celebrities and politicians, is also offering its regular customers a four-night winter package that runs through the end of February. The package is based on a standard bed and breakfast program. The hotel features a high standard of service, plush rooms and suites, an indoor pool and several dining experiences, including the chic Hayarkon 99 restaurant. danhotels.com.

DEAD SEA

Prima Spa Club indoor pool.

Prima Spa Club

For couples who endeavor to get away from it all and enjoy a reinvigorating body-and-soul winter experience, the Prima Spa Club boutique luxury hotel highlights a Moroccan spa, wellness programs, spa parties and VIP services. There are discounted rates available for vacationers who wish to spend seven consecutive nights in the hotel. prima-hotels-israel.com.

Rimonim Royal Dead Sea

The Rimonim chain, which recently assumed control over this five-star facility, has upgraded the Dead Sea region’s largest hotel. The Royal highlights 46 private treatment rooms, an indoor saltwater pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and gymnasium. There’s also an outdoor pool and kids’ pool. During the winter season, the hotel is featuring “Royal Serenity Indulgence,” two- and three-night packages aimed at couples who wish to enjoy a romantic getaway. The midweek and weekend packages include various perks, including a bountiful breakfast and dinner (half-board). rimonim.com.

Jerusalem lodging boasts refined eatery, spa


JERUSALEM — It had been years since I’d ventured any farther than the lobby of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, so when I received an invitation to tour its spa and one of its restaurants, it was hard to say no.

Built in the 1980s, the Inbal is one of the city’s top hotels and its facilities reflect this. Its staff is helpful and pleasant, and its health club and spa, which were refurbished two years ago, are top-notch.

One of the nicest things about the Inbal is its location in tony Talbieh. It’s within distance of the Old City and Western Wall, the many shops and restaurants on bustling Emek Refaim Street and the center of town. It adjoins Liberty Bell Park, which boasts a fantastic kids’ playground, outdoor exercise equipment, basketball courts and places to barbecue. In other words, a taste of the real Israel.

We began the tour at Sofia, the Inbal’s dairy restaurant. Adjoining the flower-filled terrace, the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide the feel of outdoor dining without having to sacrifice much-needed air-conditioning.

Sofia specializes in pasta and fish dishes that can be tailored to individual tastes. When I inquired whether some of the dishes could be prepared without dairy products — I’m lactose intolerant — the answer was a resounding “yes.” This was a welcome surprise; Jerusalem restaurants are rarely this flexible.

The menu includes champignon mushrooms filled with goat and parmesan cheeses, pine nuts and spinach stir-fried in butter and thyme; and melanzana: smoked eggplant, roasted peppers, pesto, diced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese in a baked phyllo shell in cream and white wine sauce. The fresh herb salad featured finely chopped herbs combined with breadsticks, with smoked mozzarella cheese shells, red onion, sliced olives and smoked salmon.

Fish courses include salmon filet cooked either in olive oil (on special request) or served with creamed peas, polenta, thyme sprouts, Parmesan and sautéed vegetables; and filet of trout marinated in fresh garlic, with diced potatoes, mushrooms, marinated in olive oil, capers, celery and red onions.

The apple pie, which was the only dairy-free choice, was creamy and delicious, but not as decadent as the Magic Meringue, a baked meringue filled with mascarpone cream, passion fruit, coconut sorbet and honey cream.

Satisfied and full, we headed to the health club, which includes a semi-Olympic pool that is covered and heated in the winter, a gym, a dry sauna and a spa.

The health club offers Pilates, aerobics, body sculpting and water exercise classes. The gym, which features all the equipment you would find in a well-equipped American fitness center, is large and modern. There are three personal trainers.

Health club director Dr. Ran Bibi, who holds a doctorate in sports management from the Wingate Institute, Israel’s National Centre for Physical Education and Sport, said the facility is “very successful because the staff is experienced and highly trained.”

Before receiving a massage, Rachel, the young immigrant from New Jersey who would be kneading the tension out of my body, asked me to fill out a medical disclosure/permission form. The room we entered was sleek, serene and spacious, with an exceptionally comfortable massage table, a bathtub-whirlpool and a separate shower.

Again, the staff responded well to special requests. When I asked Rachel whether she had some unscented oil (as opposed to aromatherapy oils), she searched high and low until she located a bottle of almond oil, whose scent is very subtle. When she learned that I had come straight from a big lunch, she started with reflexology to ease my digestion.

The Inbal’s spa offers a wide range of massages, including Swedish, deep tissue, Oriental, four-hand, hot stone and aromatherapy, as well as facials, body peeling and Dead Sea body wrapping. Prices for a massage range from $90 (Swedish, deep tissue) to $165 (four-hand). A hot-stone facial costs $130, and mud wrapping costs $115. 

Refreshed by the massage, I showered and headed to the pool, located right outside the health club. There I found a poolside café that prepares light meals, a sun-protected wading pool and the beautiful main pool, which is large enough for laps.

The few guests I saw that afternoon were seated on lounge chairs or doing laps. A swimming instructor was coaching a 7-year-old on her breast stroke.

Thoroughly relaxed, I entered the pool, where jets froth the water and massage the muscles. I knew I should go home and help the kids with their homework.

But I didn’t.

Inbal Hotel, 3 Jabotinsky St., Jerusalem, Israel, 92145. (972) 2-675-6666. For more information, visit inbalhotel.com.

The Dead Sea is dying and it’s a ‘man-made disaster’


EIN GEDI, Israel (JTA)—The beach at the Ein Gedi Spa at the Dead Sea would seem like an ideal place for a little R&R amid the frenzy of modern Israel.

Set in the quiet of the desert, it has stunning views of Jordan’s mountains and its therapeutic waters reputedly do wonders for the complexion.

There’s only one problem at this beach: The sea is gone.

In its place are empty lifeguard towers and abandoned beach umbrellas lodged in the parched earth that make a mockery of the Dead Sea’s quiet retreat.

The sea actually still exists, but it’s smaller, shallower and much more distant than it once was—some 160 feet from the original beach built at Ein Gedi. The Dead Sea is shrinking because nearly every source of water that feeds into this iconic tourist destination has been cut off, diverted or polluted over the last half century.

“This is a completely man-made disaster,” says Gidon Bromberg, the Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an international environmental group. “There is nothing natural about this.”

A tram now shuttles visitors from the abandoned beach at Ein Gedi to the new beach, which sits at more than 1,300 feet below sea level. Thirty years ago this beach was submerged under water. In 10 years it likely will be dry, too, and the visitors’ ramp again will have to be extended to reach the sea.

By 2025, the sea is expected to be at 1,440 feet below sea level.

The shrinking of the Dead Sea has become an issue of grave concern for environmentalists, industries that produce Dead Sea-related products and Israel’s tourism sector, which worries that the visitors who come here from all over the world will disappear along with the sea.

To environmentalists, the shrinking of the sea is an environmental disaster that left unchecked could devastate the region in the coming decades.

The sea’s retreat already has spawned thousands of dangerous sinkholes. Created by retreating groundwater washing away salt deposits that had supported a surface layer of sand, the sinkholes have decimated beaches, nature reserves and agricultural fields in the area.

Future development along the northern rim of the sea has been suspended indefinitely, and the sinkholes have taken a toll on the area’s roads. Route 90, the Israeli highway that runs north-south along the Dead Sea’s western shore, has had to be rebuilt several times because of sinkholes opening up in its path.

In the meantime, the shifting groundwater has wreaked havoc with the natural oases and springs near the sea. Some natural habitats have been destroyed, and with them the feeding grounds of indigenous wildlife. Ornithologists say the annual migration of birds to this area—the third-largest migration in the world—has begun to taper off.

Perhaps most significantly for the people who live in the region, the economic consequences of the sea’s retreat have been staggering for agriculture and tourism.

“This has cost us more than $25 million since 1995, when the sinkholes started opening up,” Merav Ayalon, a spokeswoman for Kibbutz Ein Gedi, the largest Israeli town at the Dead Sea, said.

The kibbutz has had to close its resort village—though it still operates guest houses—abandon its groves of date palms and forego any expansion plans because it is virtually locked in now by mountains or unsafe, shifting ground.

Farther south, at the cluster of hotels on the Israeli side of the sea, hotels built decades ago along the Dead Sea’s shores have preserved their beaches only thanks to an artificial pool of sea water. The pool, which is connected to the Dead Sea, is maintained by Dead Sea Works, the massive mineral extraction plant whose operations have accelerated the sea’s disappearance through wholesale evaporation of water.

If not for the artificial pool, the hotels would be in the desert, since the southern portion of the Dead Sea no longer exists. Though visitors cannot tell that the hotels’ beaches are artificially maintained, hoteliers say they fear potential tourists are deterred from coming to the region because they think the sea’s retreat has left the hotels high and dry.

“Tourists from abroad don’t know exactly where the sea is located and where the sinkholes are, so they don’t come as much anymore,” said Avi Levy, who used to be the general manager of the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea but now works at the franchise’s hotel in Tel Aviv. “Also, I think, there is antagonism that we are allowing such a valuable site as the Dead Sea to be destroyed.”

Agricultural industries in Israel, Jordan and Syria siphon water from the rivers that used to feed into the Dead Sea, diverting the water flow for agricultural use. This, along with the dumping of sewage by these countries and the Palestinian Authority, has turned the Jordan River, the sea’s main tributary, from the voluminous flow described in the Bible to a muddy, polluted dribble that doesn’t even reach the Dead Sea anymore during the summer months.

In addition, companies like Dead Sea Works are removing water from the sea at a rate of about 150 million cubic meters per year to get at the lucrative minerals beneath the water. The minerals are used to produce chemical products for export such as potash and magnesium chloride.

Potash can be used to make glass, soap and fertilizer, and magnesium chloride can be used in the manufacture of foodstuffs and roadway deicing products.

The work of these companies has turned what once was the southern portion of the sea into a massive industrial site.

At the time of Israel’s founding in 1948, about 1.4 billion cubic meters of water per year flowed into the Dead Sea. That total has shrunk to 100 million cubic meters, much of it polluted. Today the only fresh water the sea gets is from underground springs and rainwater. With inadequate fresh water, the sea has become more salty and oleaginous.

Scientists estimate that the Dead Sea needs at least 650 million cubic meters of water per year in order to stabilize over the next two decades.

Short of a major change in water-use policy, which environmentalists say is imperative, the Dead Sea will continue to shrink at its current rate of 3.2 to 3.5 feet per year until it reaches an equilibrium in 100 to 200 years at some 1,800 feet below sea level, experts say.

There are two main ideas for stabilizing the Dead Sea.

Environmentalists want to restore flow to the sea from the Jordan River. But that would require a sharp reduction in the use of Jordan River water for agricultural and domestic consumption, as well as cooperation between the Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians. At this point, neither seems likely.

The other idea is to construct a canal to bring salt water to the Dead Sea from the Red Sea, some 125 miles to the south. Championed by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli real estate magnate Isaac Tshuva, among others, this plan envisions the construction of up to 200,000 new hotel rooms and the transformation of the desert along the channel’s route into an Israeli-Jordanian “peace valley.”

Notwithstanding the enormous financial costs of such an enterprise—$3 billion to $5 billion—scientists say bringing salt water to a sea that heretofore has been fed only by fresh water has unknown risks.

“A decision like this cannot be made without checking the ecological impact on the environment,” said Noam Goldstein, project manager at Dead Sea Works, which has made a fortune extracting minerals like potash, table salt and bromide from the Dead Sea. “It’s possible that with a canal the sea will turn brown or red. It’s possible it will stink because of the introduction of new chemical and biological substances into the water.”

The World Bank is conducting a $14 million study into the practicalities of the channel, dubbed the Red-to-Dead Canal.

For the time being, no solution to the problem of the Dead Sea has moved beyond the review stage. Meanwhile, with the Holy Land facing its worst drought in 80 years, the sea continues to disappear.

Good Morning America visited the Dead Sea in 2006

 

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.
For more information, call (011) 972-4-8307888 or visit ” target=”_blank”>http://www.mizpe-hayamim.com.

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.

An American soldier’s Purim — 1945


“Pardon me, sir, are you perchance a Jew?”

Ralph Goodman immediately reached for the .45 on his hip. The 24-year-old American soldier didn’t know what to expect from the approaching middle-aged man wearing a felt hat, one side folded up, and speaking Australian-accented English.

Goodman stopped and looked the stranger in the eye, his hand firmly planted on his gun.

“I am,” Goodman replied. “Why do you ask?”

“It is so nice to be able to say aloud ‘I am a Jew,'” answered the man, introducing himself as Philip Vecht.

Ralph Goodman
The two stood together on a hill in Spa, Belgium. It was February 1945.

Goodman, who was on an errand for the 1st U.S. Army Headquarters Commandant section, relaxed as Vecht explained that he was Australian born and that he, his wife and two young children had fled their home in Antwerp in 1942 and spent the war years stranded in a rented cottage in this once-popular resort town. Only the Vechts’ British passports had saved them from deportation.

Vecht recounted that virtually no Jews remained in Spa. And that his own father-in-law, a Belgian citizen hidden in a nearby house, had died of natural causes several years earlier and been secretly buried. The family had not been able to recite Kaddish for him.

The two men also noted that Purim was approaching.

“Sir, I have holy books buried safely in my cellar, and amongst them Megillat Esther, and my daughter has not yet heard it read,” Vecht said.

“Mr. Vecht, the Megillah will be read Purim evening,” Goodman said.

Goodman, from an Orthodox background in Pittsfield, Mass., was looking for a reason to celebrate. It had been a bitterly cold and nasty winter. Chanukah passed unnoticed. And the Battle of the Bulge, a surprise attack, one of the war’s bloodiest battles with more than 80,000 American casualties, had ended less than a month earlier.

Life for the Vechts was also dire. In Spa, they were required to report to the Gestapo every week. And Philip Vecht, formerly in advertising and banking, was forbidden to work; he sold his wife’s jewels to sustain the family.

Daughter Rosette Vecht, born in 1937 and now a social worker in London, remembers her mother crying often and rarely smiling. Her father was gone much of the time, searching for food or working with the Resistance. Rosette Vecht was always frightened of being separated from her parents and always hungry, hating the rutabagas that were served at every meal.

The Vecht family was forced to abandon all their possessions in Antwerp, but Philip Vecht refused to leave the Torah scroll his father had given him on the day he died. Vecht kept it with him throughout war, wrapped in an old shawl.
“He truly felt that by keeping the Sefer Torah close to him, God would keep him and his family safe,” Rosette Vecht said.

Amazingly, the Vechts maintained an observant life throughout the war.
“My father never changed,” his daughter said. “He was a religious Jew. He prayed every morning and we kept strictly kosher.”

But because the children were anemic, he arranged for them to eat meat at the neighbor’s house.

During the war Rosette Vecht, however, was never told she was Jewish, for fear she would tell others. She thought that everybody observed Shabbat and that she and her brother Romeo, born in 1935, had dark hair because they were Italian.

The Vechts had enjoyed a brief respite from the war the previous September when Belgium was liberated by the Americans. Romeo Vecht, now a cardiologist in London, remembers meeting at that time a Rabbi Frank, a chaplain, who gave him a pair of GI-issued tefillin, which he uses to this day.

But the Battle of the Bulge, which erupted on Dec. 16, had sent the Vecht family into sudden exile from Spa, their lives endangered on several occasions. By the time Purim rolled around, the family had only recently returned, still reeling. Yet, Philip Vecht welcomed Ralph Goodman’s Purim offer.

In preparation, Goodman approached his mess sergeant, Tony Seas, a former World War I Polish army captain, for whom he had done a favor.

“Tony, I need flour, oil, raisins, poppy seeds, sugar and lemons. It’s Purim.”
“What the hell you talking about?” Seas answered.

“Tony, you owe me.”

Before the holiday, Goodman delivered the ingredients to Henrietta Vecht, Philip’s wife, who greeted him open-mouthed at the sight of such luxuries.
He returned on erev Purim with a group of Jewish soldiers, including his yeshiva-trained buddies Paul Burstein from the Bronx and Melvin Lewis from Washington, D.C.

Romeo Vecht was not present that evening since he had already been sent to boarding school in London. And Rosette Vecht, 7 at the time, remembers it only vaguely.

But Ralph Goodman clearly recalls that Purim celebration.

The Ma’ariv service was prayed, Kaddish was recited for Henrietta Vecht’s father and the Megillah was read.

“The GIs ate lovingly baked and tasty Purim pastries with coffee that Sgt. Seas provided,” Goodman said.

Goodman also remembers two little girls — Rosette and perhaps a younger cousin — who “sat on a kitchen table with tears running down their faces and sang z’mirot [songs].”

In the story of Purim, with its unpredictable and paradoxical chain of events, “The world turned topsy-turvy,” according to Megillah 9:1.

But for the Vecht family and the Jewish GIs, for a few hours that Purim night in Spa, Belgium, with Haman dead and Hitler on the run, with a Megillah reading and homemade hamantaschen, the world turned right side up.

Philip Vecht died in Antwerp in 1968; Henrietta Vecht died in London in 1985. Ralph Goodman lives in Pittsfied, Mass., and both Rosette Vecht Wolf and Romeo Vecht live in London. The Vechts and Goodman were reconnected for the first time since 1945 through the writing of this article.

Muddy the Body, Cleanse the Soul


Visitors to Israel are often looking for a spiritual uplift, and one of the country’s best-kept secrets for achieving that transcendent state is not found in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Perhaps it is the oxygen-rich air coupled with the high-concentration of relaxing bromide. Or maybe it’s the lure of natural therapeutic essences in the surroundings of scenic beauty. Simply put, there is no better place to unwind and rejuvenate than in Ein Gedi country.

Located on the western shore of the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the planet, Ein Gedi is the site of some of the highest concentrations of medically beneficial minerals in the world. As if that is not enough, the depth of the region allows for maximum filtration of the sun’s otherwise harmful rays, and the higher air density naturally lowers blood pressure while supplying the body with additional oxygen.

It is no wonder that King Solomon, touted as the wisest man to have lived, extolled the virtues of Ein Gedi in his writings, and the prophet Ezekiel described wonderful visions of its landscapes.

At the heart of the region sits Kibbutz Ein Gedi and its adjoining resort hotel, the Ein Gedi Country Hotel, the only populated botanical garden in the world.

My husband and I were welcomed to a semiprivate narrated tour by long-time kibbutz member, Daniella, who cheerfully takes visitors around in her golf cart, showcasing the fragrant wonders that span the entire kibbutz, including the cactus garden interspersed within. The botanical garden boasts a wide range of desert plants from the four corners of the world, as well as tropical flora from various rain forest regions, grown with no exceptional cultivation techniques. Biblical plants such as myrrh and frankincense grow among date and other palm trees, as well as Sdom apple trees.

Daniella pointed out a small zoo, miniature golf course and an Olympic-sized pool with spectacular views of the Jordanian mountains to the right and the mountains of Ein Gedi to the left. She did all of this while simultaneously explaining the history of the kibbutz, which is nothing less than a modern-day miracle, a man-made oasis amid a barren desert that was founded in 1956 by a group of army recruits who dreamed of making a home in the Judean Desert.

The rooms offered by the hotel are as varied as the gardens that surround the kibbutz. Among the options available are the Botanical Garden Room, surrounded with a tranquil desert garden environment; the Romantic Room, with luxurious Mideast-themed décor and a Jacuzzi; and the Arugot Room, decorated in a rustic desert style with views of the Wadi Valley.

Meals at the Ein Gedi Country Hotel are delectable. Breakfast features a combination of continental and Israeli buffets, including 10 varieties of cheeses and yogurts. Dinners are equally sumptuous, with soups and meat, fish and poultry dishes and a Viennese table for dessert. However, anyone allergic to nuts will find themselves without much of a dessert selection.

Despite the stunning grounds and the amenities offered at the kibbutz, I suspect that this is not what keeps tourists coming back. It’s something in the air that makes you feel like you are floating through the day, drifting about in a magical oasis without a care in the world. The locals say it’s the bromide in the air that has a calming effect. According to our guide, even people with one lung breathe well in Ein Gedi due to the increased circulating oxygen.

We returned to the lobby and noticed a sign that read: “Unwind and detach yourself from daily stress with yoga under the baobab tree at 5 p.m.” That must be for newcomers, because I can’t imagine anyone feeling an ounce of stress here.

Our attention turned to the holistic treatments offered at the kibbutz’s Resort Hotel. Ayurveda treatments are offered for additional charge, but we decided to forgo those in favor of visiting the Wellness Centre at Ein Gedi Spa, which is free to guests of the Country Hotel.

The spa, on the shores of the Dead Sea, is only a short ride away by free shuttle service from the kibbutz lobby. A range of treatments, from Swedish massage to Thai or Shiatsu therapy, are offered at the spa, as well as mud wraps, peeling treatments with Dead Sea salts and aromatic oils, designed to remove dead skin cells and leave skin silky smooth.

We proceed to survey the grounds of the Ein Gedi Spa, nature’s treasure-trove in the deepest of the earth’s depressions.

There were a few tourists by the mud area in the late afternoon when we arrived. We joined them spreading mud over our entire body, scalp included, letting it work its wonders in silence.

I noticed that a number of men had an abundance of mud in their hair, covering their entire scalp. Apparently the mud is known to draw blood circulation up to scalp, and increasing blood circulation can encourage new hair growth.

We showered in hot sulfur spring water, and I relished in the oily residue that would renew my skin.

Floating in the Dead Sea, warm and buoyant, was an experience in itself. The exceptionally high salinity and variety of minerals dissolved in the sea provide both chemical and mechanical therapeutic action.

After rinsing off once again, we were treated to a swim in the spa’s freshwater pool and a late-afternoon snack near the solarium, where people with various skin disorders alternated sunning themselves with bathing in the thermo-mineral baths or in the Dead Sea to get relief from their ailments. The treatment is so effective against various auto-immune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, that the Danish government pays for its citizens requiring such care to spend one month a year at Kibbutz Ein Gedi and its spa.

For less than $5, the kibbutz offers guided hikes through the nearby nature reserves of Ein Gedi National Park, known for its natural sweet water springs and waterfalls, which flow between two wadis.

Flowing from a hill in the center of the oasis is the Ein Gedi Spring, which supplies mineral bottled water to the Israeli population, and runs from the taps of all faucets at the kibbutz. Close to the spring intersect several trails that lead to the Najar Scenic Overlook, the Dry Canyon and the David Waterfall.

In addition to a Masada tour, the kibbutz also offers a 45-seat safari jeep with half- or multiple-day Judean Desert excursions, including a moonlight tour, a biblical weekend trip and a Spice Route trek.

At the end of a wonderful day, it’s as if I’ve been given a taste of the Garden of Eden. Ein Gedi is a true delight for the senses, a retreat for the mind and body, a place where heaven meets earth and the rare spot where man lives in perfect harmony with nature.

For more information, visit

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.

Sweet Indulgence at Chocolate Spa


The Spa at the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pa., is every chocolate lover’s fantasy. With bowls of silver-wrapped kisses (certified kosher) seemingly everywhere, and hot cocoa waiting by the fire, it may be the world’s only spa that actually encourages guests to consume the stuff between treatments.

For the truly addicted, a menu of chocolate-themed services fulfill hedonistic dreams of being wrapped in melted chocolate, soaking in a tub of frothy chocolate ambrosia, playing in a chocolate mud bath and much more.

The town, dubbed “the Sweetest Place on Earth,” was built around the eponymous chocolate factory, producers of certified kosher chocolate. The spa, which was designed by the award-winning TAG Galyean and in size from its original 17,000-square-feet in 2004, overlooks beautiful gardens and reflecting pools.

On a recent visit, I warmed up with the Chocolate Fondue Wrap (an hour for $105). Spa-goers are metaphorically “dipped” in a heavenly sauce, then wrapped up to rest like a chocolate bar.

I wasn’t really smothered with melted chocolate but the experience came surprisingly close. In fact, the “fondue” spread on my skin smelled so good, I asked if I could taste it. My friendly female spa attendant warned me off. And a good thing, too. The fondue combines warmed dark Moor mud — rich in organic minerals offering therapeutic benefits for muscles, joints and skin — with the spa’s proprietary scent, the “Essence of Cocoa.” Together, the ingredients simulate the look, feel and aroma of melted milk chocolate.

Great spa treatments resemble a kind of gracefully choreographed performance, and this was no exception. When I entered the treatment room in my cushy spa robe, my attendant explained she would leave while I undressed and draped myself discretely. She quickly returned to exfoliate my skin with a dry body brush to promote circulation, then applied the chocolate mud from neck to toe and wrapped me in a lightweight thermal space blanket — just like the silver wrapper of a Hershey’s bar. She left me to “bake” in the light of chocolate-scented candles and the sound of soothing recorded classical music.

She washed off the “chocolate” with a soothing, multiheaded Vichy Shower, which conveniently swung over the treatment table.

As an encore, she applied a layer of the spa’s cocoa body moisturizer. That left me inhaling the faint smell of chocolate the rest of the day. Armed with the Hershey spa logo skin brush as a souvenir, my skin felt remarkably soft and my muscles and mind relaxed.

Meanwhile, my friend Helen indulged in the Chocolate Bean Polish, another signature chocolate service. This 30-minute treatment ($60) also begins with a scrub — a loofah brush that served as Helen’s souvenir. Next, it combines the gentle exfoliation of cocoa bean husks and walnut shells. And it, too, finishes up with a softening application of cocoa body moisturizer.

The spa offers an array of other chocolate-themed treatments and packages. The Chocolate Dipped Strawberry exfoliates the skin with strawberry seeds and pumice. The Hershey Peppermint Patty incorporates an invigorating peppermint exfoliating scrub. Either treatment is followed by the Chocolate Fondue Wrap. Each combination lasts 90 minutes for $165.

Other favorites include the Herbal Meadow & Sea Scrub, which softens and exfoliates skin using crushed herbs, meadow flowers, sea salt and oils (30 minutes, $60) and the Cocoa Massage (50 minutes, $95; 80 minutes, $150).

Prior to our treatments, Helen and I rested in a lounge overlooking beautiful gardens and a reflecting pool. We also took time out in the scented aromatherapy room, complete with chaise lounges, fruit and mineral water. Later in the day, we were the only participants in what became a private Hatha yoga class on the picturesque, indoor pool deck. We also dined on a kosher fish-in-foil lunch at the luxurious spa restaurant and worked out in the state-of-the-art gym.

To re-create a chocolate spa experience at home, the spa also shares its recipe for the Whipped Cocoa Bath treatment:

Exfoliate with a loofah or skin brush. Then add 1/8 cup Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa Powder and 1/3 cup instant nonfat dry milk to your bath while it fills up. Add one teaspoon of the spa’s signature Whipped Cocoa Bath. If you have a whirlpool tub, turn on the jets and enjoy your soak. After your bath, slather on cocoa, milk and honey or peppermint moisturizer.

The Spa at The Hotel Hershey is located at 100 Hotel Road, Hershey, Pa. For information, call (800) 437-7439 or visit

Healing the Spirit, the Torah Way


Hinda Leah Scharfstein sees the Torah as more than just the original source of halachah, Jewish law, and the earliest telling of our nation’s birth.

“The Torah takes a holistic look at the individual, and it does tend to have a sort of healing effect on people,” said Scharfstein, the executive director of Bais Chana Women’s International, a New York-based nonprofit. “I attended my first holistic Torah retreat 20 years ago, and I have been involved on a professional and personal level with it ever since, and since then I have definitely felt better. My thinking has become healthier, and I feel more whole.”

It is this view of the Torah as holistic medicine in a book, a personal well-being road map for Jewish individuals, that is the impetus behind Bais Chana’s February Palm Spring’s retreat “A Spa for Mind, Body and Soul.” In between the glatt kosher spa meals and the hikes in the Indian canyons, speakers like Rabbi Manis Friedman, a Minnesota-based Orthodox rabbi who dabbles in homeopathic and holistic healing, and Shimona Tzukernik, a teacher and art therapist, will lecture on topics like “Sharpening the Senses: Changing the Way We Look and Listen” and “Seven Foods for Emotional Well-Being.”

But Bais Chana is only one of several groups that are part of a movement to integrate ideas of Eastern medicine and emotional healing with Torah learning and kabbalah to produce a kosher alternative to new-age philosophies.

Many members of the California Orthodox community take care of their families’ health by seeing acupuncturists and homeopaths, viewing these therapies as part of the way that bodies can be kept whole to serve God. Last Sunday, the Fairfax’s Torah Ohr Synagogue sponsored a daylong seminar on “Medicine and Kabbalah” by Rabbi Yuval Hacohen Asherov, an Israeli kabbalist and acupuncturist who discussed the halachic approach to healing, and the way that a healthy person has a “flow” going through the nefesh (one’s physicality), the ruach (one’s emotions) and the neshama (one’s spirituality).

Afterward participants were able to approach Asherov for counseling about the problems or blockages in their life.

In the Pacific Palisades, a Chabad-sponsored group, The Jewish Women’s Circle of Discovery, has sessions where participants explore “renewal and rebirth on a spiritual path of personal discovery.”

Popular Australian Orthodox mystic Rabbi Laibl Wolf comes to California several times a year to lecture about how kabbalah can help people overcome stress in their lives. More Orthodox Jews are clicking on Web sites, like www.jewishhealing.com and www.paradiseprinciple.com, where they can find out about how “Jewish medicine” — the advice that our sages have written over the years about how physical and spiritual health can actually help them become aware of, to quote Jewish Healing, “the soul’s role in healing.”

“Our main goal is to inform you that there is a higher medicine for Jews, one that is replete with diagnostic methods, treatment strategies, ethical teachings and spiritual profundities,” states the mission statement on the site.

“The whole idea of many of these holistic therapies is getting to the root of the problem,” said Dr. Ya’akov Gerlitz, an observant Jew who is the Jerusalem-based founder of Jewishhealing.com and a doctor of Chinese medicine. “For a Jew, the root of his condition is the soul — it is his connection to Hashem, and therefore all healing must include the soul. If a Jew is suffering, it is not enough to heal the body, even though the physical body is very precious to God, but you need to get through to the soul to get to the core of the issue.”

Gerlitz lectures and counsels people, writes articles on Jewish healing and runs a worldwide network of Jewish healers. He developed the Sefirotic Alignment Therapy (SAT), which uses the 10 kabbalistic sefirot (spheres of divine energy) to counsel people through emotional problems. His approach is part doctor, part counselor. While he will provide homeopathic remedies to children who have chronic colds or ear infections, he will also dispense Torah advice to people who have emotional problems, like an inability to see things through or fearing death (the Torah solution to that is to write a will).

“According to Jewish law, you are required to get the best healing you can get for an illness, so it doesn’t matter if you go to a Jewish doctor or not,” Gerlitz said. “But if you are already exploring going to the core of the matter then you should go only to a Jew. Healers bring their energy into the practice, and if you go to someone who has pagan ideology, it could affect the person by bringing in tumah (impurities) or kelipot (dark forces) into the patient. For holistic therapies, you definitely want a Jewish model.”

While these therapies might not appeal to everyone, even more conservative Orthodox rabbis think that they can’t hurt.

“It should not replace normative medicine,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. “But anything that can help one find a balance in life is good, and as long as it does not violate halachah, then what would be wrong with using different methods?”

“A Spa for Mind, Body and Soul” will take place Feb
16-19 for women and Feb 19-22 for couples at the Le Parker Meridian Hotel in
Palm Springs. For more information, visit www.baischana.org/couples.html  or call (800) 473-4801.