Celebrities, health-oriented live it up in the Dead Sea

Ted Turner and his wife, Jane Fonda, landed so close to the Dead Sea that they could almost taste the salt. The celebrated couple, known for their frenetic lifestyle, came to Israel – and to the Moriah Plaza Dead Sea Hotel – in search of pure rest.

They got it.

From the moment they arrived, Turner and Fonda were in good company. Consider this: Cleopatra baked in the region's rich black mud. King Herod rejuvenated himself in the mineral water. The Queen of Sheba used Dead Sea salts for therapeutic bathing.

So what would it be for Turner and Fonda? A dip in the sulfur pool ($13) providing the body with vital minerals? A skin-nourishing mud pack ($29)? Inhalation treatments ($9) to soothe headaches? Or, would the twosome merely end up as most visitors — just bobbing in the unsinkable water (no charge)?

The question is addressed by Shraga Kelson, the hotel's spa manager. Kelson, who since 1986 has made it his business to know every guest, runs through the therapeutic effects of floating effortlessly in the Dead Sea.

"When there's no gravity, your body has a chance to relax and the stress goes away. That's it. We've had even more astonishing results with psoriasis and rheumatoid sufferers. But don't take my word. Every person here will tell you that water therapy works so quickly that your chronic soreness isn't so chronic anymore. Perhaps the biggest surprise is to watch how so many people undergo a personality change, once they're no longer in pain."

While Fonda may not have transformed her personality while at the Dead Sea, she certainly luxuriated in its non-stress environment.

For the Dead Sea has features unlike any other tourist attraction. It occupies the lowest point on earth (1,290 feet below sea level), and has the deepest concentration of minerals of any place in the world. With 50 percent more concentrated bromine, you sleep soundly. With 15 percent more magnesium than the ocean, your skin feels toned and refreshed.

Combine all this with the area's minus-altitude, high temperatures, low rainfall and pollen-free atmosphere, and presto! — the dry and oxygen-rich air will rejuvenate your body and soul.

"I have worked on so many bodies of celebrities, athletes, politicians, and CEOs" says Sara, the Romanian-born owner of the beauty shop in the Moriah Plaza Dead Sea Hotel, "that I can never remember all their names. Jane Fonda. Sylvester Stallone. Jodie Foster. I've helped them all."

She smiles tranquilly and continues working on a Frenchwoman who signed up for a $48 minilift — the salon's most popular treatment that works for the face and neck.

"Will the treatment take very long?" the customer asks.

"You can't measure beauty in time," comes the reply. Then, before the guest can ask another question, her face is silenced — stiffened by a masque of herbs and oils.

"After their wrinkles disappear and they feel youthful again, they usually come to me," claims Professor Yehuda Kedar. In 1969, the Israeli worked in Houston with NASA astronauts, but today the septuagenarian has his office in the Moriah and dedicates himself to improving the quality of a person's life.

"My system is so easy," he begins. "It's a combination of correct physical activities, proper nutrition and cardiac relaxation." (He charges $15 for private counseling, $3 for a group session.) Kedar has been trying to sell his program to Israelis, but most of his pupils are European or American.

Kedar, a human ecologist, notes that his country's greatest killer is heart disease. "It's amazing to think that in Israel 100 people die daily from heart-related illnesses. No wonder. They overeat and smoke and never think it will be a problem. That's when I tell them, `Your body doesn't belong to you. It belongs to your husband, your wife, your children.'

"In just one visit I can teach a three-minute walk that will save your life. I can also take you through a guided imagination system that has a permanent calming effect. So? In a short space of time you'll feel like new."

Dorian Kathein, Moriah Plaza's general manager, agrees with the professor.

"I'd say here we have everything except skin damage. The oxygen-rich atmosphere filters out the ultraviolet rays, so you never burn, just tan. We're doing such a good job that our business is 95 percent repeaters: Regulars, who, after spending 14 days turn around and say, `See you in six months.'"

So, have Fonda and Turner been back? Kathein points to the private airstrip outside the four-star resort. In typical Israeli bravado, he adds, "If they know what's good for them."