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May 4, 2003

Rebel with a cause

Israeli-born Rami Bader is biking for his brother

By SCOTT HASKINS -- Edmonton Sun

We've all had them. They're as common as the common cold. Like conflict in the Middle East.

Life's embarrassing moments.

You gotta laugh, and Rami Bader is howling as he tells the story of his first motorcycle ride in his native Israel.

"My dad hated bikes," he says. "Too dangerous."

But he had two strong-willed young men on his hands after Rami and his brother Gili turned 18. They rebelled, at least in a small way. They bought scooters.

"We had to drive 500 km to break them in," says Rami. "And they wouldn't go over 40 kmh."

There they were, bombing right along, when a bicyclist passed them.

"We tried pedalling, pushing with our legs, even leaning forward," he says. "Finally we just gave up and started laughing. We couldn't stop."

$900 phone bill

The boys were close, best friends growing up in Tel Aviv. Even as adults living on opposite sides of the world, they spoke often.

"My phone bill used to be $900 a month," Rami says.

Gili Bader died of cancer in October 2000. He was 46, leaving behind a wife and three young children. Plus his parents, his sister and his riding partner.

On May 23, three weeks from today, Rami will climb on his 1,500-cc BMW motorcycle in Edmonton and prove you can go home again. May 23 would be Gili's 48th birthday.

Rami will be the Rebel With a Cause, on a ride for life from Edmonton to Israel. From the home he adopted 13 years ago to the homeland that remains so close to his heart.

"I don't want his fight to be in vain," Rami says of Gili. "He loved life."

The incredible journey will give Rami a sense of closure. And he, in turn, hopes to give thousands of dollars to the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton and the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) through fund-raising before and during the trip.

While doctors gave Gili only three weeks to live when he was diagnosed with melanoma, he battled bravely for more than 10 months.

"Cancer strikes every family eventually," says Bader, now a Canadian citizen. He and his second wife, Wendy, have a six-year-old son, Adam.

He also has two teenage children in Israel. Daughter Keren, 16, lives with her mom. Son Erez, 19, is doing his mandatory stint in the Israeli army.

No family has been stricken more than his own. Rami's favourite aunt died of cancer. All of his grandparents died of cancer.

Both his mother and father are cancer survivors.

Rami will ride alone, but he will not be alone. A picture of his brother is taped to his gas tank. Every kilometre gives him inner peace when he rides, he says.

"It's cheaper than a shrink," he says. "Riding my bike is kinda like my therapy."

Rami's route will take him through Saskatchewan and Winnipeg. He'll enter the U.S. in North Dakota and fly to Lisbon, Portugal, from Toronto. Then, after biking through Spain, Italy and Switzerland, he will take a cargo ship from Greece to Haifa, Israel.

Thousands of kilometres and yet only 100 of them concern him, the stretch from Haifa to Tel Aviv. Terrorists, right?

Rami laughs. "Are you kidding," he says. "There are two million cars on that road. The drivers are unreal. There may be rules of the road, but nobody follows them."

When he arrives in Tel Aviv, his first stop will be at his brother's gravesite. "I will let him go," he says.

Rami, 46, came to Edmonton as a consultant with Telus and eventually founded his own Internet company.

When his brother died, he took a year off to be closer to his son, Adam. It's now 21/2 years later and finding work still ranks well down his list of priorities.

"My wife says I have to go back to work soon," he laughs. "She can't take me anymore."

He managed to get back to Israel quite often, but it hurts that he wasn't there when Gili died.

"It was so tough for my father to know when to call me," Rami says. "I was in Connecticut."

Seven hours later, he was in Israel. "They told me my brother died seven hours earlier. I am not a religious person, but he must have died as we were talking on the phone."

He apologizes and rubs his eyes. "I am an emotional person."

Family is important to Rami Bader. He's on the phone every time a suicide bomber strikes. He called last week and woke everybody up. They hadn't even heard of a bombing.

'I love my country'

"After you fight for your country, you feel like you own it," he says. "I love my country and I miss it, but I could not stay there. I am Canadian now. I am an Edmontonian."

Wendy is an Edmonton girl. She was horrified and terrified the first time she went to Israel with him. "She wouldn't leave the house," Rami says.

He was in Tel Aviv when the Iraq War began. He was scheduled to leave that very day, but he changed his flight. "I couldn't go then, run off like a coward and leave my family behind."

He got back into biking seriously after his brother died.

"I just wasn't myself. Getting on my bike and just taking off cleared my mind."

The idea came to him last year, as he cruised in southern Alberta. If he couldn't keep his brother alive, he would at least keep his brother's spirit alive.

"Cancer awareness, treatment and research is important," he says. "Money solves problems."

He applauds the work of anti-smoking crusader Barb Tarbox and the Strathcona pucksters who played the world's longest hockey game to raise money.

Now it's his turn to do his part.

"I will not keep one cent," he vows. "Every dime raised in Alberta will go to the Cross Cancer Institute. The rest will go to the ICRF. The fight against cancer must continue."

Forgive me, but they don't come much gooder than Bader.

"I think my brother would be proud of me," he says. "If my trip helps one person, it will be worth the effort."

Anyone wishing to help can contact the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Cross Cancer Institute, 1560 University Ave., Edmonton, T6G1Z2, call the Cross at 432-8500 or direct deposit to Ride for Life, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Commerce Place, 10102 Jasper Ave., Edmonton.

Scott Haskins can be reached by phone (780) 468-0278, by fax (780) 468-0139 and by e-mail at
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