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Israeli Guide Dogs: A New Leash on Life
An angelic singing voice and a charming presence graced a rather festive night at a Malvern home recently. The wondrous voice belonged to talented Nili Seidel, a 22-year-old blind Israeli singer and pianist. Why she was here is a story of hope and thanksgiving, love and friendship. Seidel was in town - along with her mother Guila, founder and chairwoman of a parents' support group for blind Israeli youngsters called "Horizon to Our Children" - to sing and play, in a mix of musical styles and three languages (Hebrew, English and Arabic), for 45 supportive and appreciative people at the home of David and Marian Moskowitz.
It was all part of a fundraising event for the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, says its president, Norman Leventhal. The Moskowitzes are members of the IGDC's board of directors.
The IGDC, which provided Seidel with her guide dog, Jesse, in September 2004, has its world headquarters right here in Warrington, in Bucks County, with its training facility in Israel, where it began teaching guide dogs 14 years ago. The Warrington site and another branch in London assist with critical needs, such as finding puppies for breeding purposes, and raising money for the cause from foundations, individuals, synagogue students engaged in mitzvah projects and through bequests.
Seidel - who lost her sight when, as a premature baby, she received too much oxygen - trained with Jesse for about a month last year.
"I need the dog because of the independence and mobility it provides," she explains. "Up to the time I received Jesse, I had used a cane, but I was always uncomfortable with it because I had the feeling I looked helpless, and that people felt sorry for me.
"When I leave my home with Jesse, I am much more self-confident," she notes. "She leads me from class to class and always finds the door, since all I have to say to her is 'Find the door.'
"And she also responds to many other commands. She was taught to stop at every down and up curb, waiting for the command to proceed - kadima ('forward'), smola ('left') and yemina ('right')," says Seidel.
"Jesse also is my companion, so I'm never alone, and people are much more apt to speak to me when I walk with her. When I walked with the cane, rarely did anyone say anything to me"
And these two good friends practically share the same birthday. Seidel's is Sept. 16; Jesse's is Sept. 14.
"We celebrate together on the 16th," says Seidel with a smile.
Seidel and Jesse trained at both Nili's and her parent's home in Motza Illit, near Jerusalem, because the IGDC's new student center in Beit Oved, about 45 minutes away, was under construction.
On the flight from Israel, Jesse was no trouble at all, adds Seidel. "She slept most of the way. We had fed and relieved her before boarding in Tel Aviv, and she was fine for the whole 11-hour trip," attests Seidel.
For as long as Jesse is able to guide Nili, there is no charge for the dog and any aftercare, just as there was no charge for training, says Leventhal.
The cost to provide a guide dog for a blind Israeli is $25,000.
The story of the IGDC began with Noach Braun in 1986, the year Leventhal met the Israeli paratrooper. Two years later, Leventhal established the school as a nonprofit organization.
Braun was an army dog trainer whose dream was to learn how to train guide dogs (he completed his training in England), and opened a school in Israel.
All of the training is done in Israel - and in Hebrew.
As Leventhal emphasizes: "We work daily to keep Noach's dream alive."
To learn more about the Israel Guide Dog Center, call Leventhal at 267-927-0205, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.