America’s best-known doctor, on his first trip to Israel, has this advice for the locals: Keep walking, but chill out.
“I think the Israelis have incorporated into their daily lives activities that make them healthier in general than many Americans, partly because they move themselves more,” Dr. Mehmet Oz, the daytime television talk-show star, told Haaretz in an interview. “They don’t rely on their cars solely, which is a major positive.”
Yet all the benefits of this ambulatory lifestyle, Oz warns, could be wiped out by the tendency he has observed of Israelis to stress out. “Living under constant stress, as you do here, can cause people to overeat and lead to obesity,” he noted during a short break following a tour of a drug rehabilitation center in Tel Aviv.
“What you people need is some good stress management tools. I just want to remind everyone in Israel that anxiety is not something that comes from outside – it comes from within. So no matter what the source of stress may be, it’s how we cope with it that determines our overall health.”
Oz, a practicing Muslim of Turkish heritage, is in Israel this week with his wife and four children on a trip organized and hosted by America’s celebrity rabbi, Shmuley Boteach, who runs a nonprofit group devoted to promoting Jewish values. Boteach also brought his family along for the trip.
The two struck up a friendship when they worked together as radio hosts on “Oprah and Friends,” a program produced by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. That company also produces “The Dr. Oz Show,” a three-time Emmy winner televised in 118 countries, including Israel. The trip was paid for by Jewish-American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam. “Honest to goodness, I didn’t come because of the free trip,” said Oz. “I should have come years ago.”
All the way to Ankara
Oz, whose parents moved back to Turkey after many years in the United States, visits them every year and is known to enjoy close relations with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He is scheduled to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, and Boteach suggested that Oz might help the prime minister patch up relations with Turkey. “Mehmet celebrates his Turkish heritage, and he’s even going to Turkey after this trip, so I believe the prime minister will have a very substantive discussion with him about Israel’s relations with Turkey,” said Boteach. “Not that Mehmet is a diplomat, but he carries a lot of weight.”
Asked whether he would agree to take on this assignment, Oz said: “It’s not that I’m averse to playing a role in making people who are already friendly friendlier, despite the recent conflict, but there’s no question that I need to learn a lot more. I’m not there yet.”
Boteach said word had gotten to him that Netanyahu is a fan of “The Dr. Oz Show,” which is broadcast in Israel on the Good Health Channel. “Perhaps he’ll be asking Mehmet for some advice on health,” Boteach said.
Unlike other international celebrities, Oz said he had not been pressured by Israel boycott supporters to refrain from visiting the country. “We have an obligation and a responsibility to learn, and it’s very difficult to argue against learning,” he said, explaining his opposition to a boycott.
“I had never been to this country before, and I’m already in my 53rd year of life. I think it’s very difficult to understand the world if you don’t understand what’s going on in Israel, and that’s part of the reason I wanted to meet with the prime minister.”
So is it strange for him to be here as a Muslim?
“There are some vocal Muslims who are not friends of Israel, but I certainly have been exposed to many Muslims who are – friends not just of Israel but of Jewish people,” Oz said. “I feel like I’m living in a world where there are many opportunities to build bigger pies, but fighting for crumbs – not to belittle the conflict that’s happening here – it limits our ability to thrive.”
Based on his impressions of the past few days, Oz said Israelis seem not only to exercise more but also to eat more healthily than Americans. “They eat real food here,” he said, admitting that he did accompany Boteach for a bite at a kosher McDonald’s.
Any culinary discoveries that America’s guru on healthy eating and living intends to bring back home with him? “Oh yes,” he lights up. “Pickled herring in the morning – it’s just fantastic.”