Community centers brought magicians, clowns, table-games and musical performances to entertain and distract children who spent much of their summer in bomb shelters.With magicians, clowns, table-games and musical performances on a daily basis, one might mistakenly believe that a carnival is in town. Far from it.
Instead, these activities are part of the home front efforts being organized by the Israel Association of Community Centers (IACC) to help children and their parents living in northern Israel cope with the month-long war that has brought daily bombardment of Katyusha rockets into their backyards.
As a result of the security situation, summer camps have been closed and the government has forbidden community centers without public bomb shelters from normal operation. Not only are children and their parents now trapped at home, but they must deal with the fears that come from sleeping and spending their daytime hours in bomb shelters, said Dorit Rom, Director of Resource Development for the IACC.
Springing into action within a few days of the conflict, IACC began operating under the unofficial motto that if the community can?t come to us, we will bring it to them, said Itzik Eddry, director of the Kiryat Ata community center outside of Haifa. Instead of running normal activities from its 60 regional centers and their accompanying branches in the north, IACC has been providing relief in the form of community activities to residents in over 1500 public bomb shelters, said Yair Geller, Director of the IACC Executive Board.
Ranging from simple arts and crafts projects to more elaborate nature activities volunteered by the Nature Preservation Authority, the activities have given much needed reprieves to both parents and their children.
?We want our children to be like children and continue with regular lives,? said Dina Avachayon who brings two of her children to the Tamar community center that also houses a public bomb shelter. ?Here they play, they color and speak with other children,? she told ISRAEL21c.
The IACC flagship achievements, however, have been their ability to mobilize massive numbers of children and remove them from the conflict altogether, even if just for a day. In the past two weeks, over 20,000 children a week have taken advantage of at least 6 fully subsidized trips offered by the organization to amusement and water parks in the center of the country.
In addition to these day-time excursions, the group organized a make-shift summer camp in its Yoqneam branch for children whose families fled from Haifa, Tzfat and other northern cities under attack. Catering to a broad mix of children from different religious and cultural backgrounds, the Yoqneam camp will run through the summer as long as the need exists, said branch manager, Adva Weinstein, who noted that they had already decided to extend the first session for another two weeks.
?I feel safer here because it is fun and we don?t have to go down the shelters to be safe,? said nine-year old Bar Itaach whose father works in the Haifa train station that has already been hit twice by rockets.
Ironically, the logistics of putting together these activities on such short notice somewhat resemble a military operation, Rom noted. Rom receives reports from her regional directors each day about activity in the field and then turns around and puts together proposals that will ensure adequate funding exists to keep them running. Often new activities will be conceived, executed and funded within one or two days, she explained.
?As soon as the war started, we prepared an estimation and a plan of the things we would we would,? Rom said.
Almost of all the activities are fully or almost fully subsidized through emergency funds received almost immediately from the UJC and the JDC, Rom said.
Additionally, many IACC staff have found themselves in roles that they never had expected. Until recently, Ella Eingorn ran a music conservatory associated with the centers. Now she handles all the details associated with bringing activities for children into the public shelters in the Kiryat Ata region.
Often, while making daily life as normal as possible for residents, staff members are themselves sleeping in bomb shelters at night, noted Eddry who lives near Maalot and also spends every night in a shelter.
?We had to ask all of our staff to come here, even though the IDF instructed everyone not to come here,? he added.