Israeli model Ilanit (Hila) Elmalich, who once worked for the Israeli branch of the Elite modeling agency, died Nov. 14 of complications from anorexia on her 34th birthday. Her death has sparked a global debate about pressures on models and young women to be thin – or too thin – and the dangers associated with such societal pressures.

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According to reports in Israeli media (link is in Hebrew – see articles in English here and here – this second link is to an ABC News report showing disturbing video of a skeletal Elmalich collapsing in a friend’s arms in a hospital waiting room), the 1.72 meter (5 feet-6 inch) former model weighed 22 kilograms (49 pounds) at her death, quoting her mother.

Her mother told the journalists that Elmalich began modeling at age 13 in her hometown of Tiberias. Her dream, her mother said, was to model in Tel Aviv and to see the world. Her anorexia began at the same age.

Her mother said Elmalich died at home, while she was preparing to celebrate her 34th birthday.

A friend, photograher and modeling agent, Adi Barkan, called her a “sacrifice to fashion.” He said Elmalich was an intelligent, professional and terrific woman. Barkan has been on a lengthy campaign to push modeling agencies to set healthier Body Mass Index requirements for their models.

In a follow-up interview, Barkan said that when she fell into his arms in that hospital, “I took hold of something from the grave.”

In 2004, Israel became one of the first countries in the world to mandate a minimum Body Mass Index for fashion models. By then, however, it was too late for Elmalich.

The shocking tragedy of Elmalich has reverberated around the world. Thousands of people have read this post, and hundreds have commented on other versions of the story published elsewhere.

In My Heart has twice asked Elite Modeling Agency in Israel and in the U.S. to comment on Elmalich’s life and death. An update will be posted if we receive comment.

Read more tributes and obituaries of prominent and interesting Jews from current times and the past on In My Heart, Where Jewish Memories Live Forever. Tell us – and the Jewish world – the story of someone you know and admire.

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