This week, someone who was a fixture for many years here in Jerusalem passed away at the age of 84. Dr. Reuven (Bob) Bruner was one of the early promoters of physical fitness and healthy lifestyle for the English-speaking community. He changed many people’s lives for the better, including mine.
I first met Reuven soon after he made aliyah from Melbourne, Australia. Although not a native Australian, he spent many years there running fitness clinics and helping people prepare for marathons, half-marathons and 10k races. But his main purpose in doing so was to get those who were living the typical sedentary western lifestyle to change and enhance their health.
I still recall the day 31 years ago when Reuven, a short Lubavitcher Hassid, was looking for a ride out of the Har Nof neighborhood. He gave me his business card, which I put away in my desk later that day. Only four months later did I retrieve the card and call. That call shaped my destiny forever.
I was about as sedentary a person as you can imagine. I loved sitting on the couch, eating junk food and using the car whenever possible. I also had borderline high blood pressure and was definitely overweight. In a matter of a month after first meeting him, the weight was coming off, the BP was going down and I felt much better. In a matter of six months, I was jogging 20 to 35 kilometers a week and it only went up from there.
More than that, he helped me develop a passion for health and fitness that was to become my career down the road. I was sold on preventative measures for our health and began to get my hands on any material I could in order to enhance my knowledge. Reuven was right there with me. I was Reuven’s first client in Israel and did my best to tell others about him.
Over time, he built up a nice clientele and was even flown to other countries from time to time. For years, his columns were featured weekly in the In Jerusalem supplement of The Jerusalem Post. He was a frequent guest on the English-language programs on Kol Yisrael radio and the Kol Simcha radio station which existed at that time. He earned master’s degrees in both nutrition and exercise physiology. His doctorate was in sports psychology.
During his lifetime, he ran many ultra-marathons, including participating twice in the Melbourne-Sydney six-day race. He boxed in the Rome Olympics in 1960. Before moving to Australia and Israel, he worked in his hometown of Montreal and then Los Angeles.
A true hassid
MORE THAN this, Reuven was a true hassid. He looked after the welfare of many people. There are people whose financial situation went awry; he was quietly and even secretly paying off many of their bills. He was always concerned about the welfare of his fellow Jew, doing what he could to be of help. His birthdays were always major events.
Back in the 1990s, he would bring refreshments to the track at Hebrew University and have an all-day “open house” where you could come and meet him, work out a little and partake in the celebration. Years later the celebration moved to Gan Sacher, and afterward it moved to his synagogue. But birthdays were always celebrated.
I think my own story is also a tribute to Dr. Bruner. After years of working with him, he began letting me work with some of his beginning clients. As I was then looking for ways to better my earnings, I thought that being a personal fitness trainer might be a good avenue for me. I was, however, hesitant as I did not in any way want to take from his source of making a living.
But one day, I finally asked him to come over and I asked him if first, he thought I was ready to make this move and second, was it okay with him. I told him I was in no way interested in infringing on his livelihood.
He told me that I was definitely ready and that our money comes from the One Above and that there was plenty of room for plenty of people in this new and fledgling industry. He then encouraged me to get a good certification and even lent me a little bit of equipment to help me get started until I could afford to start purchasing my own. I think that little story says it all. Because of Reuven, I developed a new career and have gone on myself to also become a wellness coach and to receive several certificates in nutrition.
Reuven’s little adage was “Be alive as long as you live.” The best tribute we can all give to Reuven and honor his memory would be to commit to his little saying and add one new health habit. It can be a daily walk, it can be eating more fruits and vegetables, and it can be a commitment to eat less junk food or getting more sleep. But anything that we take on would honor his memory both as a ground-breaking exercise specialist and as a baal hesed – a performer of kindness – that he was.
Thank you Reuven for all you did for me, for turning my life around, as you did for thousands of others and for giving our health the importance it needs.
The writer is a health and wellness coach and personal trainer with 23 years of professional experience. He is a graduate of the eCornell University Certificate course on Plant Based Nutrition for preventing and reversing illness. Alan is director of The Wellness Clinic. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, US Line: 516-568-5027. [email protected]