I got two pieces of advice from Dr. Mehmet Oz when we started the interview.
The first had to do with health: “Eat right. Treat the supermarket like a pharmacy. It has all the vital ingredients for preserving good health.”
The second, which he offered as a Muslim, had to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the conflicts among the nations of the regions in general: “I pray you will be able to see the things that unite you and realize that they’re stronger and much more dominant than the differences between you.”
Dr. Oz, who is visiting Israel this week with his wife, Lisa, and their four children, is not just any physician. A cardiac surgeon by training, he is the most watched physician in the United States. Millions of Americans view his television program. “The Dr. Oz Show” is broadcast to more than a hundred countries, including Israel’s Health Channel. His books, which have been translated into dozens of languages, including Hebrew, are runaway bestsellers.
But Dr. Oz has other traits: He’s a proud American, a proud Turk and a proud Muslim who is considered a great friend of Israel. His visit to Israel was arranged by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, popular author and founder of This World: The Values Network.
At a gala dinner of his organization last May benefiting the Rambam Medical Center, Rabbi Boteach honored Dr. Oz as a champion of human values. The other honorees were Elie Wiesel and Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.
That evening, with the mediation and assistance of the Adelsons, it was decided that the time had come for Dr. Oz to visit Israel with his family to connect to the Holy Land.
Bismuth: Dr. Oz, people in Israel aren’t all that thrilled with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who makes things difficult for us. What can you tell us about him?
Dr. Oz: I met him quite a few years ago when he was still serving as mayor of Istanbul. You have to understand that he’s an extremely important leader in the Muslim world. His political success is not a coincidence. He worked hard. You may not know it, but he personally took care of the city’s poor. Through Islam, he improves the citizens’ lives. Of course, one can argue about his ideas and his performance, but despite everything that Turkey is going through now, Erdogan brought political stability to his people. Erdogan’s Turkey has become a democratic model for other Muslim nations.
In your opinion, will there be a change in the chilly relations between Israel and Erdogan’s Turkey?
Relations will go back to being friendly. I’m convinced of that, and it’s only a matter of time. The Turkish and Israeli nations know how to work together, and they like doing so. They engaged in transactions before, and they will again. Israel and Turkey have too many common interests that are impossible to ignore, and the leaders are aware of them.…
Dr. Oz, the son of Turkish immigrants Suna and Mustafa Oz, believes in cooperation between Jews and Muslims. His family experienced such cooperation when he studied medicine from Jewish physicians. He recalls that a Jewish physician named Dr. Nissan treated his mother. He describes such cooperation as optimism, which is one of his main characteristics and to which he attributes his success.
At the age of 53, he can be pleased. His television program, “The Dr. Oz Show,” has won three Emmy Awards. He is a professor at the Department of Surgery at Columbia University, where he also serves as vice chair. He is also the director of the Cardiovascular Institute and heads the alternative medicine program at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.
Do you feel you’re more effective as a surgeon or as a television host who gives medical advice?
There’s nothing like being a heart surgeon. Imagine what a heart is. Imagine what happens during heart surgery. It’s so unique. I would love to perform 10,000 operations per year, but in the end I’m limited in the number of operations I can perform.
Still, television is a tool that helps you in your work.
Definitely. Let’s say I operate on 500 cases a year. Imagine how many people I can reach through television. I want to believe that the advice I give people through my television program has the clear advantage of helping them maintain their health and stay young.
Would you say people care more about health today than in the past?
I’m very glad to see there’s been a change in people and that they understand that science alone is not enough for our health. Fifty years ago people died of infections, and then people said, “If only there were antibiotics.” Now we’re at a different level, where we want to be aware of how to protect our bodies and live well.
Can we have an example from a specific health field?
Let’s look at the field of addiction. People eat too much, but we shouldn’t just tell them “Don’t eat.” Instead, we should tell them we love them and they’re important to us, so it’s important to us that they take care of themselves. It’s that way with addiction to smoking, too. You have to make people understand why we don’t want them to suffer from harmful addictions, not just tell them it’s forbidden. Also, when we talk about health in general terms, we have to know how to do it, since the subject bores people. It’s much better to tell them what can make them more beautiful [and] smarter….
What is the toughest medical problem we are dealing with today?
People aren’t connected anymore. People don’t connect with each other. People don’t make eye contact. That only prevents us from developing well. Connection is what defines us and our lives. For example, obesity is a symptom of loneliness. Stress causes us to make wrong choices. A rich country is a healthy country.
Is there a food you won’t give up?
I’m very fond of ice cream, especially pistachio and chocolate. Luckily, I also like to eat raw vegetables, especially cauliflower. It’s the winning combination, to eat things you like that are also healthy.
What are you careful about?
Eight hours of sleep. That’s a must. Any night that you go to sleep before midnight helps stabilize your circulatory system. It helps your creativity and alertness. I go to bed at 10 o’clock every night and wake up feeling like new at a quarter to six in the morning.
It sounds like you know how to deal with many things, but it’s reasonable to assume there’s something you have difficulty with.
The toughest thing for me is to lose a patient. You develop techniques for dealing with it, but you never really get over it.
How do you give yourself encouragement?
I talk with my wife. She’s always there to listen to me.
At the time of the 9/11 attacks, were you afraid of how Muslims might be treated in the United States.
I was worried that people might connect all the Muslims in the United States with the nineteen people who committed the attacks, but the result was very different. The Americans learned a lot more about Islam. It was much more comfortable for them to talk and debate about religion and the way to respect Islam in various countries. With time, the general result was that America has a better understanding of the Muslim faith, and tolerance there has only increased.
Do you have a way to cure the sicknesses here in the Middle East, to resolve the conflict, or teach us how to do it?
The word “medicine” has the meaning of healing. The word “doctor” has the meaning of teaching. So my choice is to intervene to heal by teaching wisdom. I believe that all the professions have an obligation to talk about civil subjects of great importance to help societies in times of turmoil. I also think that medicine has always been successful at crossing every geopolitical and religious border.
(Israel Hayom via JNS)
Full disclosure: Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson own the company that is the primary shareholder of Israel Hayom, whose English-language content is distributed exclusively by JNS.org.
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