While Israel is known for its brains (more Ph.D.s per capita than any other country) and brawn (an unmatched military), youth and beauty abound. Along with that fountain of vitality is an amazing abundance of energy amid the public, due to a smart diet and a high level of fitness. And, well, they’re darn good looking, too.
The Greeks had Aphrodite, Ares and Athena, but with a oneness philosophically embedded in its religious DNA, the Jewish state singularly embodies that mythical trifecta.
Take a walk along the Tel Aviv promenade and it’s hard to avoid the onslaught of runners, bikers and walkers with a stride that personifies the chai (life) symbol many of them wear around their necks.
Right outside our hotel and directly on the pathway near Gordon Beach was an outdoor gym, where runners, bikers and athletes of every age stop to cross-train. Next door, the volleyball courts were constantly occupied day and night, and to dodge the matkot games was itself an exercise. A block away is Krav Maga Tel Aviv, where I popped in to work out, and next to it is Gordon Pool, which is open to anyone.
But it’s not just Tel Aviv, a city on the sea known for its zesty style and hip youth. In Jerusalem too, to be a walker in the city is to imbibe the sights, sounds and smells of a revitalized youth (and adults with vigor) — whether dancing at the Kotel (Western Wall), hiking the Judean Hills or navigating the shuk (open air market) on a bustling Friday afternoon.
While back in the states there’s an obesity epidemic, with more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) designated as obese, according to the Center for Disease Control, Israel’s population is younger, lives longer and is less obese than those of other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, as reported in The Jerusalem Post last year.
For my parents’ generation, if asked to free associate and come up with an Israeli woman, the great Prime Minister Golda Meir probably would come to mind. Today, Bar Refaeli is Israel’s top female pop culture icon. And while everyone knows her to be a pretty face, she also embodies brains and even some brawn for her tough and intelligent stand when she recently spoke out (tweeted) against Roger Waters for his anti-Israel/BDS remarks. In case you missed it, she told the former leader of Pink Floyd to stop using her image in live concerts after he urged fellow musicians to boycott the Jewish state.
Indeed, what Refaeli demonstrated, with her Hebrew tweet, was a personification of Israel’s deeper beauty — of fortitude, courage and integrity.
Amid the swirl of chaos, tumult and horror that surrounds Israel, with governments gassing their own children, Christians being slaughtered and an overall culture of death exalted, it may sound like a cliché to refer to Israel as an oasis. Yet, the contrast is stark. To be sure, just as the song “Am Yisrael Chai” is an outward expression of a life-affirming nation, the truth is that it is also a manifestation of what’s inside the people.