They say that dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. Atlantan Debbie Levy understands the value of honoring the dogs in our lives more than most.
“I love dogs. They’re so incredibly loyal, and they truly are a person’s best friend.
For Levy, the bond goes deeper than just a simple kinship between human and pet. Dogs literally helped her save lives when she served as a member of the Israel Defense Force’s bomb detection canine unit, Oketz.
“We minimized the threat of terrorism by ensuring that the area was clear of explosives and weapons” she said. “It wasn’t always easy, but it was extremely rewarding work that kept Israel safe.”
Levy, who grew up in a Zionist home that taught her the importance of Israel, felt that joining the IDF was her responsibility.
“I went to summer camp in northern Israel, but my time there was cut short due to the Second Lebanon War,” she said. “Even as I was leaving, I always knew that I wanted to go back and defend Israel.”
While most recent high school graduates in Atlanta were planning gap years in South America or preparing for college, Levy was determined to fulfill the commitment she made to return to Israel.
After graduating from high school, Levy made aliyah and joined the IDF to contribute to and defend the land and people of Israel. She said JNF-USA’s affiliate Nefesh B’Nefesh played a major role in helping her settle into her new life in Israel.
“They placed me on a kibbutz to prepare me for my Israel experience, which I loved,” she said. “They helped me deal with bureaucracy, assimilate into Israeli culture, and ultimately make my dream come true.”
Once in the IDF, Levy trained for the elite bomb dog unit, which included six months of basic training, plus a six-month dog course. “My dog came with me everywhere,” she said.
The training also resulted in a unique sleep schedule for the soldiers.
“We had to train the dogs in the middle of the night, because it was too hot for them in the day,” Levy said. “We would work with them all night and then get as much sleep as we could during the day.”
Levy used the time to bond with her service dog, an energetic Belgian shepherd named Pariz.
“She was so special! Pariz was just as much of a soldier as the rest of us. All of the dogs in the unit were.”
After an honorable discharge from the IDF, Levy went back to focusing on her education, attending Georgia Tech to become an industrial engineer. While back in the states, Levy has remained active in JNF-USA, serving as a lay leader on the Atlanta JNFuture board, Atlanta board of directors, Atlanta Women for Israel steering committee, the Faculty Fellowship committee and as a Georgia Tech campus liaison.
And while she is now pursuing a post-college professional career, Levy has never forgotten the special bond she formed with Pariz. In fact, she recently honored her canine comrade with a JNF-USA Pet Certificate, symbolizing that a tree had been planted in Israel in Pariz’s name. She also honored her current dog Ziggy.
“JNF-USA is a huge part of my life,” Levy said. “It has helped me grow into the Zionist I am today, and I have been given the ability to become a modern-day pioneer even while living abroad.”
JD Krebs is national communications associate for the Jewish National Fund. To honor the pet in your life, visit jnf.org/petcert.