Known as the busiest day of the week, Friday, September 18, 2020—coupled with Erev Rosh Hashanah—was no exception. After cooking, cleaning, organizing, shopping, taking care of the dogs, conducting basic maintenance, the members of the IDU’s 24-hour emergency response team heaved a collective sigh of relief as they readied for Rosh Hashanah prayers. Finally, these special volunteers who devote their every spare minute to the lifesaving activities of the IDU would be able to enjoy a nice and peaceful holiday meal and welcome in the new year. Just as they were settling down for their chag dinner, their plans completely changed; a serene, peaceful non-eventful holiday was not to be.
The jovial conversation quickly went silent as the volunteers heard the emergency phone ring from the other room. On the other end was policeman Guy of the Lod Police Department informing them of the disappearance of Avraham Gitnekh, who at 65 was suffering from dementia, and was missing for almost two days! The volunteers present looked to Mike Ben-Yaakov, commander and founder of the IDU, for the next steps. Ben-Yaakov quickly identified the case as high risk and proceeded to deploy David and Yosef, two experienced IDU volunteers, equipped with a SAR dog and a thermal camera mounted on a drone. At about 5:00 AM Shabbat morning they returned after covering their assigned areas; unfortunately, without any news on the missing person. As per the plan, they woke the second shift of volunteers. Commander Ben-Yaakov packed the van with the necessary dogs, food and equipment to be able to set up a search HQ for an indefinite amount of time.
A few hours later, Ben-Yaakov and the volunteers arrived at the Lod Station where the local police chief allocated the precinct conference room to the team to conduct the search. IDU navigators immediately started examining maps and identifying the relevant areas. Martin and Joseph, two local Tel Aviv dog handlers, were sent to a couple of relevant areas north of Avraham’s house while two more volunteers, Bram and Yitzy, were sent with SAR dog Yenta to cover the south.
Mike was asked to deploy additional dog handlers and drones in Kiryat Gat, Avraham’s likely destination, as he had lived in Kiryat Gat from the moment he made aliyah from Ethiopia in the mid-1980s and only moved to Lod three weeks prior to his disappearance.
Zev and Bnaya, from the IDU’s Gush Etzion branch, were sent to a bus stop on Kiryat Gat, where clothing had been spotted that resembled the clothing that Avraham was seen in on the security cameras outside of his home. The team searched nearby orchards, and then moved on to join the Tapuach and Tel Aviv IDU command center in the Lod police station.
At this point it was a full two days after Avraham’s disappearance and he was in very grave danger. As Bram, Yitzy and SAR dog Yenta approached their assigned area, they realized that from the attempted point of entry the area was mostly fenced off. They logically decided to split up and go along the perimeter of the area in different directions searching all entry points on the way. As Yitzy and Yenta headed east, Bram, a former Eagle Scout at 226, run by Danny Chazin at Heichal HaTorah, headed south. He soon found a suitable entry point to an interesting abandoned parking lot, overgrown and unmaintained—a perfect example of where a missing patient with dementia could be slowly dehydrating. However, after searching the area very efficiently, Bram left convinced that Avraham was not there. Another 200 yards down, now heading east, Bram happened upon another entry point: an unkempt trail going around a small hill with a very steep drop into a jungle of thick thorns and brush. Fearing that Avraham could have fallen into the thicket, Bram quickly started battling his way through the brush.
After about 50 yards, Bram exited the thorns and proceeded to return to the trail, only to be pleasantly surprised by a man lying on the ground just a few feet away! Bram noticed the man was shaking from dehydration and immediately gave him water. He gently carried him to a shady spot and proceeded to give him more water. Soon after, the police came with a family member for confirmation and quickly rushed Avraham to the hospital. The ambulance drivers wanted to drive Bram back to the police station; however, he refused to do any extra melacha and walked the mile and a half.
At the Lod police headquarters they celebrated the happy ending of this intense episode as well as the chag. Bram and the other volunteers proceeded to return to the police station. They davened and Commander Ben-Yaakov made Kiddush for the unit and the police. Amir Ohana, Israel’s minister of Internal Security, congratulated them for saving Avraham’s life.
On Rosh Hashanah the books of life and death are open before God and He judges each creature individually and inscribes them for life, or sadly, sometimes the alternative. With three high-risk cases within 24-hours of each other all found alive thanks to God as well as His IDU messengers, we can say that this year cannot be off to a better start.
For Bram and the other young IDU volunteers, the IDU is a unique opportunity to be part of an operational unit that engages in daily security and search-and-rescue missions. Bram has had no shortage of adventure since he moved to Israel almost two years ago, studying in the pre-military academy at Keshet in the Golan. He was one of Israel’s first corona patients, labeled patient 260. He beat corona, with God’s help he has made four finds and continues to save the lives of others in Israel.
Donations to the IDU can be made at: http://israeldogs.blogspot.com/2020/08/emergency-crowd-funding-campaign-for.html?m=1
Bram Settenbrino of the IDU, Israel’s lead civilian canine security and SAR unit, succeeded, baruch Hashem in saving the life of a Jew this Rosh Hashanah. Bram was also an Eagle Scout at 226, run by Danny Chazin and located at the Yeshivah Heichel HaTorah in Teaneck.