I’m sitting on the plane to Israel with Dr. Mehmet Oz, his wife Lisa, his kids, my wife Debbie, and three of our nine children. It’s Mehmet’s first ever visit to the Jewish State and we’ve been talking for almost 8 hours straight. We’ve discussed the Middle East, Israel, Turkey, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, evolution, sexuality, jealousy, and especially my new book on lust, Kosher Lust. I decide to interview him.
Shmuley Boteach: Are you excited about your first visit to the Holy Land?
Mehmet Oz: I love exploring places I’ve never been before, but this takes it to a whole new level, the honor of visiting the holy land. It’s difficult to understand the challenges and opportunities we face in the world without understanding the Middle East. I’ve been to the surrounding countries, including my parents’ homeland of Turkey, and Jordan, Egypt, and Cyprus. But it’s fun to come to the very center of it all.
SB: And what’s the essential reason, aside from my driving you crazy about it for years, that you’re coming to visit Israel?
MO: My family and I are visiting Israel, the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, in an effort to better understand the source of the universal Jewish values that have so positively impacted on the world and the place from which they stem.
SB: Given that Israel is a controversial country, and you are a mainstream American TV host with a worldwide audience, were you concerned about being pulled into political controversy?
MO: As a healer I would love to contribute whatever I can to ease suffering of those caught in the current conflicts. So I don’t mind the risks entailed in this trip. Nevertheless, my primary purpose is to examine our shared values which holds huge potential to helping people make sense of what is going on in the Middle East.
SB: When you say ‘our’ shared values, whom do you mean?
MO: Jews, Muslims, Christians, all of us. The values that all of us pray will be held by our children as they build a better future.
SB: You are arguably, given the global reach of your TV show, the world’s most famous non head-of-State Muslim personality. What does that mean for you in terms of your close friendship with the Jewish community and your first visit to the Jewish state?
MO: My close bond to my Jewish friends offers a huge opportunity to tell the story of how we can all thrive through the wisdom of others. My father, who is a surgeon, was trained by the top Jewish physicians in the world who had fled Europe during the Second World War. They passed their wisdom to him and he shared this knowledge to later generations of surgeons of every belief, including myself. Those of us blessed to be part of a heritage this rich have an obligation to serve as the ballast of the ship of society which is currently traveling into troubled waters.
SB: Speaking of ships in troubled waters, you are also one of the Turkey’s most famous celebrities even though you are an American who lives in New Jersey. Can you address some of the recent tensions between two peoples who have heretofore been close strategic allies?
MO: The symmetry of Israelis and Turks dwarfs any differences. I speak for many in Turkey who treasure our long friendship with Israel and remain optimistic that there is a path for reconciliation based on our shared values.
SB: What similarities, if any, do you see between Judaism and Islam?
MO: Very similar traditions, theologies, and rituals. Of all our shared values, the most important to me, as a healer, is that “If you don’t nurture yourself, you cannot share your health with others.” We need to love ourselves so we can love our fellow human beings.
SB: What are your thoughts on the Arab-Israeli conflict?
MO: I often think we’re arguing about crumbs rather than focusing on building the bigger pie. There’s so much opportunity that I see throughout my travels in the Middle East and the biggest resource by far are the people. Not the oil, or the land, but the people.
SB: You recently met Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson when you were all honored by our organization This World: The Values Network, for promoting universal Jewish values. After I interviewed you and Lisa on stage and you said you had not visited Israel, they immediately offered to make the trip possible. What is your impression of them?
MO: I appreciate their passion in getting friends of the Jewish people to visit Israel, myself included. I am incredibly impressed by their intellect, generosity, and wisdom. I spoke to Dr. Adelson at length about her vision for changing how we help troubled youth around the world. She wants to invest in kids because they are our future and always will be. I look forward to visiting her addiction clinic in Tel Aviv where she helps people who have fallen prey to addictive behavior as they try and cope with the challenges of life. I applaud Mr. Adelson for being wise enough to marry such a wise woman and brilliant physician. And by the way, Sheldon’s not so bad himself.
SB: Why have you and I spent most of the plane trip talking about my upcoming book on lust?
MO: As I watched your wife Debbie fall asleep as she read the final draft of your newest book, I could not help myself but to ask why you, Shmuley, think that love is the death of marriage, and has to be replaced by lust? I’m intrigued to learn about how so many of us have lost the true sense of eroticism in healthy, sustained, monogamous relationships. And I speak as someone with 28 years of a track record in that area.