February 3, 2010 — Designed and used daily as an indoor soccer field, this room (pictured left) in Sderot’s Indoor Recreation Center wore its other hat this evening. With more than 100 people playing and congregating in the center towards its closing time of 7 p.m. the dreaded Code Red siren went off in Sderot, Israel. The soccer field as well as a few other rooms – birthday party rooms, a movie theater, a disco — that line the center’s perimeter quickly filled up. Their other hats: bomb shelters.
The Tzeva Adom siren was heard loud and clear over the PA system,” said Ariel Kotler who was visiting the center then with his wife and children. “The staff knew exactly what to do and within seven seconds herded everyone to safety. It really moved efficiently and without panic.”
The 21,000 square-foot building was given as a gift by Jewish National Fund to this town that had endured nearly a decade of terror from continual rocket attacks. The largest secure indoor recreation center in all of Israel, it was designed to directly impact the lives of the children of Sderot and provide them with the chance to simply be kids after years of trauma. The center includes jungle gym equipment, a soccer field and volleyball court, rock climbing wall, snack area, movie theater, disco, computer room and more. The rooms on the sides double as bomb shelters and no one is ever more than 15 seconds from safety.
It is a place for children to feel strong and free, away from their daily anxiety and provides parents peace of mind knowing that their children are playing and learning in a safe and secure environment. Since opening in March it is being used by hundreds daily. While the continual barrage of rocket attacks has diminished, rockets still fall on the area. Since January 18, 2009, the end of Operation Cast Lead, over 310 rockets, missiles, and mortars have been fired at Israeli citizens.
The siren ceased blaring. Everyone was secure. Sderot’s residents are used to this procedure but “still,” said Kotler, “you could see the tension in their eyes and the greater worry that the whole thing may be starting up again.”
About four minutes passed and the all-clear sign was given. It was past closing time. People filed out of the building, safe from harm but wondering, worrying where the rocket had fallen. The center had provided both respite and safety. They would be back tomorrow. They would endure. This is the story of Sderot.
For more information and to fund the continued programming of the center, visit www.jnf.org/sderot.