This oleh reenacts pilgrimage walking from Ra'anana to Jerusalem

“I was able to use my cancer challenge to enhance my physical and mental fitness and also, I hope, to help others to appreciate the power of walking and the beauty of Eretz Yisrael.”

 RUBENSTEIN FAMILY: (From L) Ruth, Ariela, Noah, Hannah, Tzvika.  (photo credit: Zara Brooks Photography)
RUBENSTEIN FAMILY: (From L) Ruth, Ariela, Noah, Hannah, Tzvika.
(photo credit: Zara Brooks Photography)

Howard “Tzvika” Rubenstein befriended Jeremy Coleman in 1986. That was the year both of these Londoners were in Jerusalem for a gap-year Jewish Agency program for youth leaders.

Both ended up moving to Israel, as did many of their classmates. But the Rubensteins arrived only in 2011, three years after Coleman’s death from cancer.

Coleman’s widow, Pamela, and his sisters, Juliette and Naomi, founded Jeremy’s Circle to provide activities and support for families of Israeli children dealing with cancer. In the past year, over 1,400 children and parents participated in the association’s activities.

Rubenstein, the managing partner of Tel Aviv-based UK law firm Asserson, was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago. Following a rigorous two and a half years of treatment, he went into full remission.

Learning that exercise is effective in boosting treatment success and preventing a recurrence of cancer, during his treatments he began walking every day with his Ra’anana neighbor, Ari Briggs.

 GROUP PHOTO from the Ra’anana-to-Jerusalem Aliyah L’Regel walk, April 2022.  (credit: Tzvika Rubenstein) GROUP PHOTO from the Ra’anana-to-Jerusalem Aliyah L’Regel walk, April 2022. (credit: Tzvika Rubenstein)

And each day they challenged each other to go farther and faster. The two friends racing through the streets of Ra’anana became a common sight.

“One day before Passover in 2019, I told Ari that I had a crazy idea of walking from my front doorstep to the Kotel,” Rubenstein relates.

Briggs loved the idea of this sort of reenactment of the biblical aliyah l’regel, pilgrimage by foot, to Jerusalem. And so they decided they would go.

Rubenstein and Briggs gathered a group of seven friends and walked the 100-km. route in three days.

“Another 25 to 30 people met us on the last day and finished the walk with us,” he says. “To walk to Jerusalem at Passover time is very meaningful. The physical challenge made it all the more special – especially that year when over the first two days we walked in heavy rains and through thick mud.”

“To walk to Jerusalem at Passover time is very meaningful. The physical challenge made it all the more special – especially that year when over the first two days we walked in heavy rains and through thick mud.”

Tzvika Rubenstein

They couldn’t make the walk in 2020 because of COVID-19, but in April 2021 they repeated the trek and this time they started with 12 people and had 50 more joining on the last day.

“This wasn’t ever envisaged as being about fundraising,” says Rubenstein, “but because we had a lot of interest, we discussed whether it might be nice to use the opportunity to raise a bit of tzedakah. And the fantastic idea was suggested to support Jeremy’s Circle. The walk was beautiful – great weather this time – and we raised some serious money for the charity.”

This year, 22 walkers set out on April 3 for the full three-day route. Once again, the event was used as a platform to raise money for Jeremy’s Circle. Rubenstein says he was overjoyed that Jeremy’s sister Juliette joined at the start of the pilgrimage. Another 80 came along for the last day of the walk. Altogether, the “pilgrims” raised about NIS 15,000 for Jeremy’s Circle.

“The walk is great fun and so beautiful and it’s great exercise,” Rubenstein says. “It’s also spiritual and on top of that you’re raising money for an amazing organization – it just checks so many boxes.”

Rubenstein had set his heart on living in Israel from the time he was 12 years old. His parents, who had been to Israel only once before, on their honeymoon, took their two children for a summer visit. It was love at first sight.

“From that moment, I just felt like I had to be here,” says Rubenstein.

After his gap year in Jerusalem, he returned to the family home in Finchley, North London, and started university. That is where he met his future wife, Ruth.

“We initiated a long discussion about aliyah, and at the same time I started my career as a lawyer and we started raising our family.”

They traveled to Israel often until, at a certain point, “I said to my wife, ‘It’s too painful to visit Israel and have to come home to England.’ So we stopped coming.”

But in 2011, Rubenstein’s parents invited the whole family to join them on a journey to Israel for Passover.

“On the first day of Hol Hamoed, my wife and I went to Jerusalem. The energy and vibrancy and color, and the people young and old, made us look at each other and say, ‘We’ve got to do it.’ And having discussed aliyah for 20 years, we were here six months later, in October.”

The move was not without its trials for their daughter Hannah, then 15, and for 12-year-old Noah, who was halfway through studying for his bar mitzvah in England. It was easier for then eight-year-old Ariela to adjust. But all in good time, everyone had a successful absorption experience.

“The kids have been amazing,” Rubenstein says.

Hannah has finished army and university and is working in Tel Aviv. Noah, who served as a combat soldier, is in university. Ariela is an air traffic controller in the air force.

And their father?

He keeps on walking.

“It’s important for me to emphasize that the walking was a response to adversity. All of us face challenges in life and need to decide how to respond,” he says.

“I was able to use my cancer challenge to enhance my physical and mental fitness and also, I hope, to help others to appreciate the power of walking and the beauty of Eretz Yisrael.”

Rubenstein says that walking taught him that while a challenge can appear daunting, “if you can just focus on putting one foot in front of the other you will make great progress in a short period of time and you’ll get through any challenge. I think that’s a great philosophy for life in Israel and life in general.” ■

Howard ‘Tzvika’ Rubenstein, 54 From London to Ra’anana, 2011