News

Blind Israelis lead March of the Living

21 March 13


The Executive Committee of The International March of the Living has invited Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind to lead the March, which will take place from April 3-9. The 25-member delegation will march from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom Hashoah 2013.


The contingent will include six blind Israelis; their guide dogs and dedicated companions; an outstanding Shoah Scholar guide; a photographer; and a select cadre of experienced and dedicated volunteers whose families perished in the Holocaust.2012 March of the Living Group

 

For us, the journey began in 2012 when-for the first time ever-six of our blind clients and their guide dogs went on the March. For many of our clients, whose families suffered through the Holocaust, the deep symbolism of the March took on a new and personal significance. It affected every individual in our 25-member delegation, as each of them lived through an unprecedented experience, as well as making their own indelible contribution to the legacy of "We Will Never Forget!"

 

Erez, a client accompanied by his guide dog Lady, remembers the 2012 March this way: "At Majdanek, as Lady and I entered the crematorium, she knew the way-as if she had been there before.  I suddenly thought about those walking to death with the smell of burning. They don't smell the burning anymore. They have become the burning smell."


For our clients, for our volunteers, for the world, The March of the Living represents an unforgettable opportunity to commemorate tens of thousands of disabled people-particularly the blind-among the first slaughtered by the Nazis. The Nazis used dogs as weapons to brutalize Jews and the disabled. IGDCB uses dogs to help blind people regain the independence, mobility and companionship only guide dogs can provide. For our blind clients, many afraid to take part in new experiences or meet new people, this invaluable renewal reaffirms their role in the community-and their identity as a vital part of the Jewish people.

 

In 2012, when our blind graduates-together with their guide dogs-took their place at the front of the stage for the closing Remembrance Ceremony, thousands of marchers burst into thunderous applause. Spectators -and hundreds of thousands viewing live broadcasts-watched spellbound as Moti Levy, a blinded IDF veteran and one of our graduates, lit one of six Shoah commemorative torches-conveying to Guide dogs at March of the Livingthe world that the memory of those murdered by the Nazis would live for all eternity.

 

When our clients visit the camps, the experience becomes totally immersive and visceral and, through their available senses, links them to the horror of the past and the promise of the future. They touch cattle cars...ovens...bunks...railroad tracks, even speaking to survivors at the site of the massacres. Erez recalls what It felt like in the crematoriums: "Touching the small doors of the ovens through which thousands of bodies were shoved, I felt a burning sensation though the doors were cold. I can still feel pain where I touched that cold metal. This burning sensation is with me...every minute...everywhere...a scar I bear forever."

 

At our Center, we do everything we can to heal these scars for our clients-and the world. We show how we can train dogs to bring out their kindest and most gentle nature, as they help human beings in the noblest endeavor of all.

 

In the end, as in the beginning, the journey is literal, metaphorical and transformative, offering both heartbreak and redemption. Perhaps Erez, who offered this powerful recollection, speaks for all of us when he says: "In the forest I heard a melody-was it my heart? No, it was the Hatikvah sung by a group assembled at a mass grave memorial. I joined in-and the souls of the perished sang with us."

 

Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, founded in 1991, is the only accredited guide dog program in Israel-and the entire Middle East.  We are also the only nonprofit organization in Israel that provides service companion dogs to people with special needs, such as blind or autistic children and IDF veterans suffering from PTSD. Most of our clients are IDF veterans, many blinded in the course of performing their duties.

 

The program transforms lives-providing blind Israelis with mobility, independence and self-confidence through the faithful assistance of guide dog partners. Our program includes breeding and raising puppies, guide dog training, and then partnering and instructing the visually impaired person with the guide dog, both at the Center and in their home.  The process of creating a Partnership takes nearly two years and costs $25,000. Yet these services are provided free of charge.

 

For more information on the program, please contact

Michael Leventhal at 215-343-9100, mike@israelguidedog.org,

or visit our website at http://israelguidedog.org/


The Israel Guide Dog Center

At The March of the Living

April 3-9, 2013

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