TORONTO — As I was led into the pitch-black dining room to take my seat for lunch, I began feeling a bit uneasy. I had never before eaten a meal in complete darkness, with no idea of the menu, and I was anxious about the experience.
I was one of 50 people who attended Lunch-ing in the Dark on Oct. 6 at O’Noir restaurant in downtown Toronto. The event raised $10,000 for the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind (IGDCB), a non-profit organization supported almost entirely by donations.
“We wanted people to experience for one hour the feeling of eating in the dark and put themselves in the position of a visually impaired or blind person while they eat,” said Sara Gabriel, executive director of the Canadian Friends of IGDCB.
“It is very difficult for a person who is blessed with sight to grasp what a blind person has to go through in order to live as normal a life as possible.”
After I accidentally knocked over my glass of water and the woman sitting across from me spilled her drink on me, I quickly realized how easy it is to take our senses for granted. Being deprived of sight is uncomfortable and challenging, especially when no assistance is available.
While I nibbled on my salad, afraid to attempt to pour dressing on my plate, I began to really appreciate the work that the IGDCB does to help blind people in Israel achieve independence and mobility.
The IGDCB is the only accredited centre in the Middle East that breeds, raises and trains dogs to become guides and creates a partnership with visually impaired or blind Israelis.
Training costs for a guide dog, from the moment of birth until it leaves the centre with a blind Israeli, are approximately $25,000. The blind person receives the guide dog, instruction and regular home visits during the working life of the dog at no charge.
“When we started here in Canada eight years ago, thanks to our founding chairman, Dr. Morris Samson, we were practically unknown,” Gabriel said. “Today, we have grown exponentially thanks to the community. Its generosity and support have made it possible for us to sponsor, in the last five years, 36 partnerships. As well, we have provided the funds for six blind people and their guide dogs to participate in last year’s March of the Living.”
Aside from individual donations, Gabriel said the IGDCB offers students an opportunity to sponsor puppies for their bar and bat mitzvah projects or class tzedakah campaigns.
“It costs $1,000 to raise a puppy during the first year, and many students have found creative ways to not only raise funds, but more importantly to help raise awareness of the growing needs of the visually impaired.”
Natalie Urbach, a 15-year-old student at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, spoke at the event about her efforts at the time of her bat mitzvah to bring attention to the cause and raise funds for the organization. When she and her family travelled to Israel this past summer, they visited the IGDCB and she was thrilled that she chose to support the centre.
The IGDCB’s next event, Evening of Miracles, will be held at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on May 22, featuring international guitarist, singer and composer Jose Feliciano.
For more information on the IGDCB, visit www.ca.israelguidedog.org.