I belong to an all women’s gym in Chicago. Like the demographics of the city, members come from diverse cultures and countries of origin. We are all different and the outside differences are quite obvious. On any given day women walk in wearing various head coverings from hats to hijabs (headscarf worn by Muslim women) to stylish sheitelach (wigs worn by Orthodox Jewish women) and other various forms of headcovering.

We are all united by our commitment to keeping fitSome Muslim women enter the gym wearing burkas (a long, black loose, body-covering, dress-like garment with a veil that cover all but the eyes), while some Jewish women enter with skirts and tops covering up from neckline to knees and still others cross the threshold in skimpy shorts and colorful camisole tops.

Many members wear their “heart on their sleeves” (or should I say on their t-shirts). A variety of t-shirts express allegiances to a country or sports team, various colleges and universities, or a myriad of causes. Expressions of individuality go from head to toe as well, as seen in foot gear. Women sport fancy footwear of all brands from Nikes to New Balance, and like our skin tone, they come in black and white and every color in between.

While we have different facial features, skin tone and body types, and come from varying countries of origin and political and religious points of view, we are all united by our commitment to keeping fit. Here I, a Torah observant Jew, can exercise on the elliptical right next to a devout Muslim woman on the neighboring exercise machine in peace and harmony. Today, on the drive over to the gym, my car radio announced unrest in the Middle East, but when I arrived at the gym, my Muslim exercise companion offered a smile and a quarter for the locker when I was short. Another day, when there was racial tension in the city, in the gym my black partner in purpose warned me when my step platform was not balanced safely.

In the gym no one really talks to each other socially. Everyone is cordial and respectful. Granted there is a lot of grunting and yelping during the workouts, and banter about grueling routines, but in general, gym members are focused on the job at hand: ridding fat and staying fit. We are united by a singular cause: to feel good and look good. People walk in with all types of garb that hides their overweight body parts. But once they change into gym clothes, there is nothing to hide and no one is judging one other. We’re all in the same boat! This brings to mind another boat-full of peace – Noah’s Ark.

Once they change into gym clothes, there is nothing to hide and no one is judging one otherThe Torah teaches that Noah gathered all existing species of animals into his Ark to save them from the raging flood waters. Imagine a floating zoo with all types of wild animals living together for a full year! Given their different natures, one might expect chaos to ensue; shouldn’t a hungry lion pursue smaller prey? Yet the Midrash teaches that their animalistic nature was transformed to a calm and peaceful demeanor. United by their recognition of G‑d’s rule, the animals just waited patiently for Noah to feed them. They were all united by a common factor---the realization of G‑d as supreme ruler. Our sages teach that this is how it will be when Moshiach comes; when “the lion will lie with the lamb” in peace. They were living in “Moshiach fashion” in Noah’s big boat, even though all around them was chaos and disharmony.

Sociologists explain that when two opposing forces are united by a shared goal it can lead to a harmonious relationship. For example, two countries fighting a war may become allies against a third invading country, or a husband and wife embattled over selfish drives may achieve peace in the home, when untied in their commitment to G‑d rather than self.

Out of the gym, whatever the political forces raging, sports teams competing or racial unrest brewing, I feel that inside the gym all is calm and none of that matters, as we are unified by a common cause—a higher purpose—that of keeping healthy.

Today as I walked out of the gym, a woman walked in wearing a blue t-shirt with big black letters that read: “Arms are for hugging.” “Right on,” I thought. “If only the world would take notice and embrace one another.” And then, in the background, as Pilates participants went into the cool-down ender for the day, an old Louis Armstrong tune played over the loudspeaker: “What a Wonderful World.” It got me thinking: If only the whole world would be united by one cause — the realization of One G‑d — and live peacefully together. Oh what a wonderful world it would be indeed!