By Robert Gluck/JNS.org
Noach Braun competed in the Nov. 6 New York City Marathon not to finish in record time but to raise awareness about the lifesaving role guide dogs play in healing.
He ran the 26.2 miles tethered to a blind partner from Achilles International, a volunteer group that pairs disabled runners with sighted partners.
Braun co-founded the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind along with Norman Leventhal 25 years ago to help disabled Israelis, including war veterans, by giving them the extraordinary gift of freedom that the dogs provide.
Uri Basha is one of those Israeli veterans.
In August 1982, Basha was serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the First Lebanon War. He was inside a tank when he heard a loud explosion. When the dust cleared, he had lost his sight forever.
During his long recovery, Basha overcame many physical challenges. He credits his dog, Triton, a young male German Shepherd, and the guide dog center, for helping to restore his hope.
Because the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind (IGDCB) had not started raising German Shepherds yet, it turned to one of its allies across the sea, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a New York organization that provides guide dogs for the visually impaired. They sent Triton as a puppy to Israel, where IGDCB trained him - in Hebrew - to become a guide dog fully adapted to his new home and its special challenges.
Basha, who is married with four children, said having a guide dog gave him the freedom and independence to enjoy life without needing assistance from family and friends.
“You have your eyes, I have my dog," Basha told JNS.org. “I do everything with my dog. It is wonderful. The dog represents freedom. I can get a bus or taxi or walk on the street, everything, without feeling bad about the blindness. Triton gives me all the things I need during my day.”
Following the marathon, Basha will join Braun in New York for a weeklong outreach program to share his experiences of how having a guide dog restored him physically and emotionally and allowed him to have an otherwise unimaginable full life.
Braun started working with military-trained canines as an IDF paratrooper and loved seeing how instinctual and smart dogs can help people.
After leaving the military, he wanted to continue working with animals and was surprised to discover that Israel, at that time, did not have a guide dog program.
Braun’s center helps visually-impaired Israelis achieve independence and mobility that guide dogs provide. The center is the country’s only internationally accredited guide dog school.
Even before Braun opened the center, he and Basha were friends.
“Uri is an inspiration,” Braun told JNS.org. “He took a tragic situation of losing his sight and made a positive decision to live and live well. He did not allow himself to be limited by his blindness, neither psychologically nor physically. He does everything, even more than most sighted people.”
Basha is a competitive equestrian, has snow skied, was part of a blind goalball team and participates in a tandem bike team with sighted and blind bicyclists. Basha earned a social work degree and worked as a family therapist for many years before changing course completely and becoming a goat farmer and amateur vintner.
“Uri is one of the most positive people you will ever meet,” said Mike Leventhal, the organization's executive director and son of the co-founder. “He is constantly on the go and is an inspiration to anyone he meets. He could have easily retreated into his home and just collected a pension for life. But he chose to live rather than just exist.”