Good News Out Of The Middle East
Warrington, PA – July 28, 2009 —
IGDC – Israel Guide Dog Center For The Blind
At last, a program in Israel that gives all blind Israelis a new “leash” on life, regardless of whether they are Jewish or Arab residents. The Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind puts man’s best friend to work in the most noble of causes—providing independence, mobility and self-confidence, as well as improved self-esteem and companionship for blind residents of Israel. The program transforms lives and allows blind Israelis to become more productive citizens in a country with the highest per capita rate of blindness in the world.
Whether students or trainers, Jews of all backgrounds and Arabs work side by side, in the process gaining an appreciation of each other’s heritage, points of view, and human needs. In the 18 years since the Center began, the IGDCB has graduated hundreds of Israelis, promoting coexistence in a troubled region of the world.
Now, Americans can learn first-hand about the remarkable work of the IGDCB—and its inspiring clients through interviews with the program’s founders and clients, as well as gripping videos and powerful photos.
It all began with a dream and a dog. Norman Leventhal, co-founder and now President of the IGDCB, met Noach Braun, a former paratrooper in the Israeli Army who turned his skills at handling bomb-sniffing dogs into the peaceful training of guide dogs. Inspired by Noach’s moving explanation of why such a program was needed in Israel., Norm joined him to begin operations in a rented house on a moshav (agricultural community) near Netanya.
Before the Center was built, Noach brought blind people into his own home, where each person spent two weeks learning to work with a dog. He recalls: “For years, my wife and I rented a four-bedroom house. Two bedrooms were for the kids and us; the other two were for our blind guests.”
Today, the IGDCB serves all blind Israelis who apply to them for a guide dog—free of charge. Its applicants include those blinded by senseless acts of terror or by diseases such as glaucoma, diabetes, macular degeneration, and retinitis pigmentosa.
IGDCB now has a state-of-the-art center, which includes spacious dog runs, whelping kennels and veterinary clinic and a student center that has six bedrooms, a student lounge, staff rooms, a dining room, and a lecture hall. Manned by 18 full-time employees, as well as numerous volunteers, the new center also hosts many events that allow the sighted and the sightless to interact.
The Center is now embarking on its biggest project ever –
Itzik and Sam
to buy and develop adjacent land that can be used to breed and train additional guide dogs. This will help even more blind people on the rapidly growing waiting list. Each one is a profile in courage.
Take the case of Amit Bar-El, a soldier fighting house-to-house during the 2006 Lebanon War. As he rushed to aid a wounded comrade, Amit opened a door only to have a rocket explode in the wall next to him. One fragment entered his head from below his left ear and exited his forehead. This plunged him into darkness and paralyzed the right side of his body. After more than a year of physical therapy, the 35-year-old father of two young daughters was finally ready to leave the hospital and return home to continue his rehabilitation.
Amit was determined not to be a burden to his family and regain as much of his previous independence as possible. When Amit received the call telling him that he was invited to the next course, “there was no one in the world happier than I was.” On his second day in the course, Amit was introduced to Dylan, an amazing black Labrador that immediately started licking him. After walking with Dylan for the first time, Amit said: “What a sense of freedom! It was the most wonderful feeling I have had since I was injured.”
Amit is just one of hundreds of unsung heroes whose stories you can hear first hand through interviews with the founders (both in the U.S. and Israel) and clients, as well as remarkable DVD footage and compelling photos.
For more information, or to schedule interviews and receive DVDs, photos and other materials, call Michael Leventhal at 267-927-0205 or [email protected] . The world could use more of these stories now.