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Hiking Israel for a better world

Posted By Karin Kloosterman On February 25, 2009 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

David Sussman (left) and Bradley Cohen: Aiming to raise funds to help underprivileged children by hiking from one tip of Israel, to the other.It’s a familiar plot in most every coming-of-age story about a young man: he leaves home in search of the truth, and then discovers — only after a long journey — that what he was looking for was right in front of his eyes all along.

That pretty much sums up the life story of Bradley Cohen. The 31-year-old UK native now lives in Israel where he founded and built a non-profit organization, All for the Kids, to help underprivileged children in Africa and Israel. His latest plan is a new kind of project in India that “rehabilitates” wayward Israeli backpackers on its way.

After a degree in university, Cohen set off from his comfortable London home and headed to the Far East in search of adventure — and the truth. He would eventually find that truth inexorably entwined to the land of Israel, and the strong sense of Jewish identity he discovered there. After six years traveling the East, it was in the teachings from the biblical Holy Land that he found the tenet of tikkun olam, or one’s duty to “fix the world.” Cohen took it to heart.

To get to know the land and the people better, Cohen set off on a cross-Israel hike, which he did in 40 days, lengthwise from tip to tip. After raising $18,000, Cohen took these private donations and sent them to Bet Hayeled, a home in northern Israel for at-risk children; some money went to the Forgotten People Fund, which provides support for the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel; and a portion went to the Kuunika Foundation, which provides food and education to over 200 vulnerable children in Malawi, Africa.

In the process, All for the Kids was founded and Cohen decided to make the trek across Israel an annual event to collect money for children’s organizations.

From one tip of Israel to the other

This year David Sussman, 31, a tour guide and new Israeli immigrant from Boston, will walk the walk, and embark on a grueling 950 km hike, spanning the entire length of Israel from the Tel Dan region in the north to the southernmost tip in Eilat. He’s hoping that his 100-day hike will raise both awareness and $25,000 for Cohen’s charity.

Embarking on March 1, Sussman has already received sponsorship from the Dancing Camel Brewery, a microbrewery in Tel Aviv, and the Israeli tour company VITS Travel. An itinerary of Sussman’s trip is provided on the website The Israel Trail and he invites other hikers, professionals or novices, to join him along the way.

Once a bartender at the famous tourist bar Mike?s Place in Tel Aviv, Sussman witnessed a gruesome terror attack in 2003, where a suicide bomber killed three people, and injured 50. The event spurred him to become an Israeli citizen, and now he wants to give back to the community that has “given me so much,” he says.

It’s not uncommon for young men, and women, from all walks of life and religions, to have deep and meaningful experiences that keep them in Israel. Despite the terror attacks, and conflict, Israel is a spiritual home for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Many visit on pilgrimages, or for fun, and some never leave.

Like Sussman, Cohen has made Israel his home. Unlike other coming-of-age stories, Cohen, who now lives in Jerusalem, built something beyond himself when finding his inner truth. He tells ISRAEL21c: “I left university and committed to traveling the world for seven years to find the truth, and then spent the next 10 years building something based on the truth that I found.”

Fundraising is important to Cohen, especially after he visited an orphanage in Malawi where his sister was working as a doctor. There, he saw how a little money could change so much. He wanted to steer clear, however, of paying out large sums of money for fundraising events. “A lot of money is used to pay for the event. I wanted to create an event where every dollar would go straight to the children,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

Meanwhile, Cohen is in the process of building a new center in India, where young Israelis — some 50,000 of them can be found in India at any time — will come to learn more about their heritage, and through tikkun olam find how to give back to the poor communities in India.

The young Israelis who travel to India after the army to unwind, also sometimes leave unwelcome signs hanging in hostels after their departure: “They are a group of lost people, and ones who need help,” says Cohen. “I want to give meaning and direction to the backpackers.” At the same time he hopes to help rebuild communities in India with education, and other essentials.

Connecting to the land, for a cause

Now an Israeli citizen, Cohen’s truth — after searching around Asia for years — resonated inside him one day. He describes the feeling of landing in Israel as a “buzz.” It required a lot of soul-searching, and not before he’d investigated other paths of spirituality did he connect to his own Jewish roots.

“While I was interested in other paths, I got attached to Judaism and my Jewish roots,” says Cohen. “That’s why I walked Israel [on a cross country hike last year], to connect to the land, to connect to myself.

“Israel has something different,” he says. “Israel is buzzing on another level.”

The eternal do-gooder, Cohen has taught English to a wide range of students from Japanese kindergarten kids to rural Sri Lankan workers, as well as English and Buddhism to university students in Thailand.

Now in Jerusalem, he’s teaching English to Muslim Darfur refugees for two days a week for two hours at a time, in between building his new center in India, and helping plan this year’s All for the Kids hike which Sussman will complete.

“At the moment, the passion and the hunger keep me going,” says Cohen.


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