I tend to strive for a holistic lifestyle as life on the road can be hard on your body. I do my best to eat clean, exercise, and get in on regular chiropractic and massage appointments, especially in between big Ezra Adventures groups. I had just finished a grueling couple months of leading Ezra groups in Israel and Jordan and needed some serious downtime to recharge before my next trip. I needed a massage. After this experience, I think I still do.
In Israel, there are some great spas, some in locations that the Romans used for the same purpose 2000 years ago, some that are newly opened to respond to the increase in Israeli tourism in recent years. A friend recommended a popular choice to check out. I had seen this place on her Instagram pics from a previous visit with her husband. They were smiling, wrapped in plush white robes, sipping champagne, and seemed happy and refreshed. That’s what I needed and promptly made an appointment. What could possibly go wrong?
I arrived with plenty of time to a beautiful view of the Golan Heights, fragrant gardens, and the warm sun sparkling off the Sea of Galilee. After filling out some info that stated exactly what kind of relaxing 60 min massage I hoped to receive, I changed into my own plush bathrobe, I roamed barefoot across the dark hardwood floors and found the pillowed lounge chairs with the champagne. Ah, yes, this is what I came for. A cool glass of bubbly, dried fruits, local organic snacks, and imagining myself a middle eastern sultan while I awaited my scheduled appointment. If only there were beautiful olive-skinned maidens to feed me grapes and fan me with palm branches... This momentary delusion was soon curtly interrupted with a woman’s Israeli accent, “sir, your room is now ready. Follow me.”
As I entered the room, it seemed to resemble more of a sterile patient’s room in a doctor's office or a glorified walk-in utility closet. It was a little cooler and brighter than soft lighting, warm colors, and ambient music I was expecting. The music volume was a little louder than necessary, playing the same weird oriental music loop every 15 mins. In the corner there was a floor to ceiling shelf that had a couple of paint cans on the bottom, someone’s quickly folded clothes in the middle and a few spa towels on top. It was quite different from the rest of the spa. “No matter,” I thought, “my eyes will be closed through most of it.” After surveying the room, the hostess informed me, “Your massage therapist today is Olga. She’s very good and relaxing”. I politely smiled and quietly thought how “relaxing” was a redundant thing to say since I was at a spa and not the dentist. Soon Olga walked in.
If you think of a movie’s stereotypical eastern European mountain woman when you hear the name Olga, that was her. A stocky middle-aged woman that could kill the fatted calf AND split the wood for the barbecue...at the same time. A solid woman whose could have competed with the East German weightlifting team, without the steroids. A not so feminine woman whose voice was a little lower than I would have preferred. A focused woman whose strong hands had a mission that she will accomplish undeterred, come hell, or high water. And most significantly, a cultured woman fluent in Russian and Hebrew, who spoke no English.
The first 15 mins weren’t bad as we occasionally attempted some broken Hebrew small talk with a few smiles. While the warm oil felt nice, how she applied it reminded me of chefs on TV coarsely marinating a large cut of meat. It was not quite the sultan treatment I had imagined and perhaps an omen of things to come. Soon she got down to business, and I began wondering if her smiles were to make nice before she got serious.
I had just started to settle in a little when she found a few knots in my back that consumed her attention, the way that a dieter attacks a piece of cake. My mind was racing on how to say “take it easy” or “could you lighten up a bit” in Hebrew, but found that quite challenging in between my occasional muscle spasms. I got a few words out to which she responded, “ok.” This also happens to be the international word for “I’m going to pretend I know what you just said, but I really have no idea.” It continued with very little finesse and with brief lulls in the intensity. I took a deep breath hoping this portion might be temporary. Not so much.
Then the twisting technique began. She took my arm in her 2 hands twisting her hands back and forth up and down all 4 limbs, the way you would wring out a wet towel. Thankfully the oil kept her from creating that “brush burn” feeling of skin stretching or tearing that I remember from the elementary school playground. This continued with the same uncomfortable devotion of “get the job done” rather than a calming “just let go of all your fears and rest.” Quite the contrary, my concerns were slowly escalating and were soon warranted.
For her grand finale of this “massage,” the hard karate chops began. All over, from my neck to my feet. And not pleasant ones, if there is such a thing. It was just like a comedy show I had seen once with the victim’s (uh I mean “client’s”) body vibrating under the firm, fast and non-rhythmic blows from the edges of therapist’s hands, over and over and over. “This can’t be healthy,” I thought. “There has to be hidden cameras around here somewhere.”
Thankfully, soon, she was done. She said “toda” (thank you in Hebrew) as she left the room, with a smiling tone of voice of someone proud and expecting a trophy. There was none to be given. As I laid there for a few moments motionless, pondering the most strange and aggressive massage I ever had, I began to reflect what I just paid for. Was she thanking me for being her only client of the day or for being her punching bag while she got out some ill feelings? Regardless, I felt like I had been unceremoniously kneaded, was ready to be tossed into a bread pan, and baked in the oven at the recommended temp. I was completely done… and thinking that now I really needed a massage.
There are lots of great spas treatments in Israel, skilled staff and restful atmospheres, some we take Ezra Adventures groups to upon request. Some are simply not worthy of the Chocolate Fish stamp of approval. However, if you are looking for an awkward, mildly abusive, and confusing spa experience for your tired and aching body and soul, I can make a recommendation.
Doug Hershey is the author of Israel Rising, conference speaker and founder of Ezra Adventures, an Israel focused travel and education company. From years of hands-on experience, cultivating unique relationships in Israel and a love for history, Doug provides a rare perspective on the connection between the Jewish Scriptures and present day Israel. When he is not in Israel, he is speaking in churches and synagogues about the prophesied restoration of Israel.