May 16, 2004

Women are so good-looking in Israel, it’s dangerous.I’ve read countless in-depth analyses of the complex situation in Israel, parsing the various political issues, parties and leaders, revisiting the historical details of wars and conflicts. Yet I don’t remember anyone raising the subject of why Israelis are so damn good-looking. Another dire result of terrorism, I suppose. When you have people periodically blowing themselves up in crowded public places, you can’t very well expect the press to start turning out stories with headlines like: “Israel: Land of Hot Babes.”

But it’s true. And particularly noticeable when you leave Jerusalem, with its hordes of pale Hasidim decked out in acres of black fabric, and go to Tel Aviv, where secularism rules. Women are so good-looking it’s dangerous. I found myself gazing at an Ethiopian soldier of such transcendent beauty that it took me a moment to realize she was looking back with an annoyed “And what are you staring at, bub?” expression. I probably coughed into my fist and turned away just in time before I got a kick to the esophagus that would have left me sounding like Tom Waits for the rest of my life.

The low-riding jean fashion is big among young women here, and unlike their counterparts in the U.S., who tend to look like the Pillsbury Doughboy trying to wriggle through a napkin ring, Israeli girls actually have defined pelvic bones to show off. The guys tend toward a certain Richard-Gere-as-a-young-man look, and as I walked around, feeling like Jabba the Hutt at a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, I wondered about the reason for this Israeli attractiveness. A few theories:

** Three years of mandatory military service. Once you go through survival training in the desert, you never quite let yourself go to pot in the way civilians do.

** The Israeli diet. While we’re shoveling back cheddar cheese omeletes, they’re nibbling chopped tomato and cucumber salads. I saw exactly one fat child and one fat soldier in a week of searching.

** The gene pool. While half the residents of any Illinois small town are 32nd cousins, Israel is a magnet for people from all over the world. Thus the grandparents of that babe serving espresso might be from Yemen, Galicia, Argentina and Toledo. Such diversity helps a population’s looks.

** Skewed perception. Israelis actually aren’t better looking, but boggled visitors just think they are. A friend told me that Israel has “the most gorgeous females on earth.” I agree. But that isn’t an observation; it’s a leap of faith.


Everyone always stresses what a big modern city Tel Aviv is, and if your model is Liberia, I suppose it is. It has a skyline, of sorts. But up close you see a lot of corrugated metal and general ramshackleness. The place had the tone of a kind of hybrid city – the love child of an unholy union between Minneapolis and Nairobi.

A land flowing with milk and beer.

The two main Israeli beers are Goldstar and Maccabee. I preferred the Goldstar, since its label has the English word “Goldstar” spelled phonetically in Hebrew, as opposed to using the actual Hebrew words for “gold” and “star,” which struck me as another enigmatic beer label mystery, like the Rolling Rock bottles.

But I’m not really a beer guy, and I searched for alternatives, since Jack Daniel’s costs $10 a pop here, and even the largess of the newspaper has limits. I settled on an Israeli-made arak, an anise-flavored spirit that was pleasant. One of the joys of being in Israel is dusty memories of childhood prayers popping up in unexpected places.

There is a prayer, “Hazak hazak vi nis hazeik” – “Strong, strong, be strengthened” – I hadn’t thought of in ages. But a bartender showed me how to make a “bierra hazaka” or “strong beer” and the memory came flooding back.

He poured a slug of the arak in a thin shot glass, then inverted it in a tall beer glass and filled it with beer. They didn’t mix, but the two liquids met in a quavering circle of light, the arak gradually filtering into the beer. It tasted awful, but when in Rome….

1:30 a.m., Independence Day

My room at the David Intercontinental looked down on the beach. The first night I couldn’t sleep, so went downstairs to slog through the Mediterranean and join what looked like about 10,000 people partying on the sand. I expected young adults dancing the hora. What I found were high school students, some falling-down drunk, clutching tequila bottles. I tried assessing the mood of Israeli youth, which seems to have absorbed our core American values. “I want to be a star!” exuded Tal Zolti, 16. Their English was good, but I started feeling like Bob Greene crashing the junior prom, and after one kid called me “Grandpa” I decided it was time to head back upstairs.

A fond adieu to the Holy Land

The businessman in front of me at passport control in Tel Aviv asked that his passport not be stamped – in a lot of countries in the world, such a stamp can get you in trouble. That seemed cowardice to me. When it was my turn, I was about to say, “Stamp mine twice.” But that seemed like the sort of thing that gets a person dragged into a small room with a bright light in their face. So I kept mum and headed happily home.

(Reprinted from The Chicago Sun-Times)

More on Blog

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

Read more: