About Israel Guide Dog Center
The Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind (IGDCB) began as a dream of a young paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). A lifelong animal lover, Noach Braun trained dogs in the IDF for military purposes.
When Noach left the military, he dreamed of continuing to work with animals—but only for man’s greater good. To his surprise, Noach discovered that there was no guide dog school in Israel. There had been a woman who trained guide dogs in the 1960s named Dr. Rudolphina Menzl; however, when she passed away, the program was abandoned. Noach made it his life’s mission to reestablish a guide dog school in Israel. So all blind or visually impaired Israelis could obtain the mobility, independence and companionship that only a guide dog can provide.
Learn more about our history
Before opening our center in 1991, a visually impaired Israeli had to go to Jerusalem to pass an English test. If they understood English well enough, they were sent to the USA or UK for a month of instruction with a guide dog. Not only was this hard on their families, but the dogs were not trained to handle obstacles and challenges found only in Israel—traffic circles, cars parked on sidewalks, security barriers, aggressive drivers, warning sirens and other issues not exist in other countries. Plus, the dogs were trained in English, not Hebrew.
When we match a guide dog with a visually impaired person, we call it a “Partnership.” But Noach would never have realized his dream without creating other partnerships. “I was lucky to meet Norman Leventhal and many other people who have joined to make this center a reality.” Please click to read more about Noach’s journey…
At age 26, Noach went to America—on his own—to find a guide dog school that would teach him the necessary skills to become an instructor. Naively, he expected, “When I arrived in New York, there would be a huge sign saying ‘Welcome Noach,’ and someone would show me the way.”
Instead, he found many obstacles and considerable disappointment. Back then, Noach didn’t speak English well, and few people were willing to help him in his quest. He walked dogs and worked for a moving company to make ends meet. He also volunteered at the Jewish Guild for the Blind in New York City. “I think I’m the only Israeli ever to volunteer there,” said Noach.
Noach called on the ten major guide dog training facilities in America. Devastated when each rejected his request to be an apprentice, Noach almost gave up on his dream. In a last-ditch effort, he turned to the Israeli Consulate in New York for help. He met Yeshaya Barzel, the Consul in charge of the Soviet Jewry desk, and asked if there were any ways he could help. Yeshaya regretted he couldn’t but suggested contacting Norman Leventhal, a well-connected Pennsylvania businessman active in Jewish causes.
Norman had no experience with visually impaired people. He didn’t know anyone who was blind and had never seen a working guide dog. He had a solid commitment to the Jewish community and assisting needy people.
When Yeshaya reached out to Norman and asked him to meet Noach, Norman replied, “I have a lot of things on my plate; the last thing I need is another project.” Yeshaya said, “Meet him. Maybe you can point him in the right direction.”
Norman invited Noach to join his family for dinner on the first night of Chanukah in 1986. Norman later said, “I never met a man who was more focused on helping others. He was the true definition of a mensch. I had to help him.”
Norman called several guide dog schools—only to receive the same frosty responses—but with persistence, he finally got a yes from the Director of Pilot Dogs in Columbus, Ohio. They agreed to accept Noach into their guide dog mobility instructor training program. Thus did a dream develop.
After a year-and-a-half of instruction at Pilot Dogs and with the assistance of Tamar Perkins, a guide dog user and the founder of the Israel Guide Dog Users’ Association, Noach completed his training at the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA – now known as UK Guide Dog Schools). At the end of 1990, Noach became a certified Guide Dog Mobility Instructor.
While Noach was learning to be an instructor, his wife Orna was learning how to establish the dog breeding program. Orna has been a full partner in the process and is now Director of Animal Services. At the same time, Norman started a non-profit organization to raise funds in the U.S. so they could establish a guide dog training program in Israel. Their heads were full of knowledge, and Noach and Orna returned to Israel to continue the journey.
When Saddam Hussein started lobbing scud missiles into Israel from Iraq, Norman and Noach’s quest to find a place to build a school was interrupted—and Noach was called back into his IDF unit. After Noach returned to civilian life weeks later, they found a small house in Kfar Yedidya, a moshav near Netanya. The Israel Guide Dog Center was born, and Noach started training our first dog, Tillie, a Yellow Lab provided by the GDBA in the UK.
After Tillie was trained, Noach invited Haim Tsur to be his first client. Tsur, a concert violinist from Jerusalem, met Noach at Pilot Dogs and was a veteran guide dog owner. Already on his fifth guide dog, he lived with Noach’s family while receiving his instruction, graduating with Tillie at his side in 1991.
Eventually, we outgrew the small house on the moshav and moved the Center to Beit Oved, just south of Tel Aviv between Rishon Lezion and Yavne, in 1994. Surrounded by orange groves and with few neighbours, it was adjacent to the Ayanot Agricultural School. Construction began on kennels for the puppies, followed by purchasing four caravans (mobile homes) where students lived during training.
A few years later, due to a significant gift from Lady Elizabeth Kaye of London, the Lady Kaye Student Center was designed, built and completed in 2004 with six student bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen, student lounge, meeting rooms, and staff offices. Today, we are proud to report we have created hundreds of “Partnerships” between blind or visually impaired Israelis and guide dogs, directly touching the lives of thousands of Israelis. Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind is the only internationally accredited guide dog school in Israel—and a full member of the International Guide Dog Federation. The Center also provides Service Companion Dogs to autistic or blind children, IDF soldiers with PTSD, and other Israelis with special needs.
While a great deal has been accomplished, much more is needed to reduce the length of time people spend on our waiting list. In 2016, we began construction on the adjacent property, allowing us to increase the number of dogs we train and the partnerships we create.
The Israel Guide Dog Center is supported by Friends organizations in Israel, US, UK and Canada. Michael Leventhal serves as President of the organization. At the same time, Martin Segal heads the British Friends of the IGDCB, Atarah Derrick is Director of the Canadian Friends of the IGDCB, and Amos Shilo is currently Chairman of the Israel Board of Directors.
Noach’s journey teaches us two important lessons: 1) dreams can become a reality through dedication and hard work, along with help from good and caring people; 2) every person can make a difference and change the world.
This is why teaching our children about Tikkun Olam – Repairing the World is vital. We can all help others and should lend our support to make the world a better place. This is how the Israel Guide Dog Center began and why we continue our vital work today.
Located just 20 minutes South of Tel Aviv, our beautiful campus is an oasis surrounded by fields belonging to the Ayanot Youth Village Educational Center. Our main building is the Lady Elizabeth Kaye Student Center which was specially designed to meet the needs of our blind and visually impaired clients. The Center has six spacious dorm rooms, a student lounge, dining hall, meeting rooms, and office space for our staff.
Our breeding center and animal health clinic—located adjacent to the training kennels – are separated by a big dog run. We also have an obstacle course and areas where our clients can practice specific skills independently.
In 2018, we opened our new “Puppy Development and Training Campus.” This new space includes six state-of-the-art birthing (whelping) suites and new kennels, allowing us to double the number of dogs we provide in the coming years. The new facility also includes an agility course, a simulated street-scape, and many features to improve the experience for our clients when they are on campus, as well as the overall quality of our services.