What Israel and Israelis Should (but Would Probably Be Unable to) Learn from Denmark and Danes

Two things caught my attention upon my arrival in Copenhagen and still haunt me even two weeks after my return to Israel. They are what we, Israel and Israelis, should (but would probably be unable to) learn from Denmark and Danes (I visited only Copenhagen, but I assume that they must be common to the other cities in Denmark; they may also be common to the other Scandinavian countries).

The first thing is the fact that there is a separate lane for bicycles on every road, even in the city center. There is no wonder, therefore, that bicycles are everywhere! Copenhagen must be a paradise for bicycle riders. Even trains are designed to accommodate them. This tacit encouragement to use the most efficient and ecologically friendly means of transportation must be only part of a bigger ecological policy of the country. As a person who loves bicycling but had to sell his bicycle after several months because of the bad condition of roads (as well as the bad manners of drivers) I can only wish we could build a similar nationwide network of roads that are friendly to bicycles in Israel. But I fear that it would probably take us decades, if at all, to realize this in this country, which has to spend a substantial amount of money Denmark does not seem to have to spend.

The second is the fact that not only do there seem to be few obese Danes but also do many of them look physically fit. I still find it very difficult to accustom my eyes to the sheer number of obese people and the degrees of their obesity in Jerusalem. The above mentioned difference in the condition of roads and the use of bicycles must contribute to this difference in obesity. But other, cultural, factors must be more crucial. I am not familiar with the customs of the average Danes, so I have to enumerate those cultural factors which, in my opinion, make and, alas, keep so many people obese here, not in comparative terms but in absolute terms:

  • Theoretically, there is and should be no contradiction between being frum and physically fit; on the contrary, we should keep our bodies as physically fit as possible as we borrow them temporarily.
  • But in actual fact, the more frum you are, the more obese and physically unfit you are likely to be.
  • Frum Jews tend to have worse eating habits and be engaged in less physical activities.
  • Even among non-religious or totally secular Jews obesity is a rampant phenomenon in Israel, as they follow the unhealthy habits of eating, which are essencially those of the poor; it is ironical that this is the only tradition many secular Jews follow even after they have abandoned Judaism.
  • Many people fail to eat at fixed hours every day; they eat whenever (and even wherever) they feel like, even when (and where) they are studying, working or in the middle of business meeting.
  • For too many people eating is the only physical activity; for some it is not even an activity but a state!

Again I am not familiar with the customs of the average Danes, but considering their physical fitness, I am quite sure that all or at least most of these Jewish habits must be foreign to them. Now the question is how we can put an end to these unhealthy habibs of the poor in Israel. Here again I am rather pessimistic about such a drastic cultral change in a short period of time as old habits die hard...