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Ephraim Seidman: A Volunteer at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind

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Ephraim and a new friend, Frank. Ephraim's family members made a donation to the Guide Dog Center in honor of Ephraim and he named the puppy for his great-grandmother, Fruma.

 By Skip Kozakewicz, Reflector Editor

Ephraim Seidman and his wife, Bunny Wilks, have devoted many years to raising guide dogs, and have a long and strong relationship with the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Beit Oved. And they are passionate about Israel!

The IGDCB began operations in 1991 and raises Guide Dogs, PTSD Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs for blind and emotionally impaired individuals. Over that time frame, they have had 1,288 partnerships with individuals receiving dogs – with 77 in 2023.

 

When the war broke out following the Hamas terrorists’ attacks on Oct. 7, Ephraim felt a strong need to volunteer in Israel with the IGDCB, located about 40 minutes south of Tel Aviv.

“How could I not go! It was not if, but when could I get to Israel? It’s an organization I know and care about.  I had gotten pretty close with Guide Center Co-founder Noach Braun over the years and reached out to him with a phone call.”

 

Ephraim reaches out to new puppies.

 

Ephraim’s call wanting to come and help resulted in a Zoom call two days later asking him to come. Once he was able to get an El Al flight, he began a 2 1/2-month volunteer stay in mid-October at the Guide Dog Center serving in many capacities – fulfilling daily important needs from the staff as well as Noach.

“Upon arrival, I quickly became the go-to-guy delivering dog food, medication, new harnesses and other equipment and supplies to clients. Or picking up dogs from IDF reservists who were raising them and had been called up …  and delivering the dogs to a family member to care for.”

He also was a regular dog sitter or helped trainers during their various tasks and spent parts of days and evenings helping in the dog kennels.

 

New puppies take a nap.

Often his assignments were unknown until the early morning. He was always prepared to help.

 

A photo Ephraim took of a Service Dog at the IGDC a day before the dog would go to a PTSD partner. Four other Service Dogs also went to PTSD clients the next day.

Ephraim also kept a blog during his time at the IGDCB and tried to make a post every few days with many photos.

 

A meaningful day for Ephraim was when he took part in a visit the Center organized to travel to Kibbutz Hefetz Haim to comfort citizens from Kiryat Shmona (a city along the northern border with Lebanon) that had been evacuated out of harm’s way. Eight puppy raiser families brought their pups and the Center brought 4 older dogs. “It lasted all of an hour, but it was a welcome break from the stress and concerns of being far from their homes,” Ephraim noted.

 

While some days were difficult, there were many highlights during his volunteer time.

  • His family honored him with a “Name A Puppy” donation to the Center that allowed him to name a puppy to be raised as a Guide Dog. He chose to name the puppy, Frank, for his grandmother Fruma.
  • In a very short time, he was treated as part of the staff and attended staff meetings, special lunches and holiday gatherings
  • He made many new people and dog friends.
  • He was honored to lead prayers during the 2nd and 3rd nights of Menorah Lightings at Hanukkah
  • He assisted trainers during their exercises with dogs on the IGDCB course in various capacities
  • He spent many enjoyable times in the “puppy houses” smiling and laughing at puppies doing all sorts of cute things
  • He became the official staff photographer

 

Tarni takes a nap. She stayed with Ephraim for part of his time at the IGDC. During the day, he took part in training exercises and spent the night with Ephraim.

A little history with their earlier relationship with the IGDCB.

Before any contact with the Israel Guide Dog Center, they had raised three dogs for a U.S. school in the Northeast.

“We started with Vera in 2010, then Alan and then Gerta.” Alan is with them now and they got him back when he was retired; Vera also was with them after retirement, but passed away in 2021.

In 2014, Ephraim and Bunny decided to spend a year in Jerusalem, and while there made a connection with the Israel Guide Dog Center to see about raising a guide dog.

“I sent an email before leaving to the Guide Dog Center and said we would like to raise a puppy.”

In Israel, they visited the Center to meet the CEO and share details of their history with dogs. “We were already a financial donor to the Center but it was good to meet in-person.”

All went well.

They were soon given, Amy, to formally raise during their year there until she would go back to the Center for a dog breeding program.

“We got to know people at the Center- the trainers and others that year and they got to know us better.”

In 2017, they returned to Israel again for a six-month period and did a lot of puppy sitting. “We got to know staff even much better during this stay.”

Returning to the U.S., they attended an AIPAC meeting  and volunteered at an IGDCB booth. “We got more attached to IGDCB.”

They were then planning on having a stronger relationship with IGDCB.

And a natural reason for wanting to be in Israel after Oct. 7th.

He concluded, “It was very fulfilling being there. There was no place I would rather have been. But, it was a tough period for everyone in Israel and will still be for a long time. It was gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking  being in Israel.”

On his last day at the Center, a special lunch was held for the staff to say goodbye and recognize Ephraim.

In his remarks, he thanked them for making him feel like part of the staff.

In part, he concluded, “I was called and similarly came 50 years ago to volunteer after the Yom Kippur War and here I am again… volunteering during a war.”

In his blog that day, Ephraim noted, “After lunch I just walked around the campus, taking in the sights and sounds one last time. I was sad to be leaving. My work was not done.”

In a social media posting …  the IGDCB recognized Ephraim for his volunteering.

“Ephraim Seidman and his wife Bunny Wilks are dear Friends of the Israel Guide Dog Center. As soon as the war broke out, Ephraim came to Israel to volunteer and help out. He has become a valued member of our staff from early morning to night shifts in our kennels.”

To learn more about the IDGCB, visit www.israelguidedog.org/