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ISRAEL: First rocket-free play center

March 11, 2009 |  9:46 am

Jnfusplaycenter4Given the choice, Sderot probably would have preferred to be known for the successful musicians it produced. But its proximity to Gaza has kept the small, southern town under constant threat of Kassam rockets and atop of the news. 

Now it can also be known as the site of the country's first rocket-free playground, with the dedication of  a giant safe-play center for kids. 21,000 square feet of an old textile factory have been converted into a unique indoors recreational facility complete with a mini-soccer field, climbing-wall and multiple-reinforced shelters.

The center will serve children of all ages from Sderot and the neighboring communities, and the multipurpose shelters will provide instant protection in case of a rocket attack, finally delivering kids and parents from the 15-second dash to safety that the "color red" rocket warning system grants.

The $5-million center is the gift of the Jewish National Fund in America. It was dedicated this week during the Purim vacation in the presence of fund Chairman of the Board Ronald Lauder, President Stanley Chesley and CEO Russel Robinson, together with Mayor David Bouskila.

Shirly, age 7, was born into the reality of the Kassam. "School and home, school and home, that's all I ever went to." Her mom says she can go play whenever she wants now. Three hundred tons of iron was used for the protected areas.

The first Kassams fired from Gaza in 2001 were fairly crude projectiles, containing about a pound of explosives and with a range of about 2.5 miles. Now, they have evolved to a maximal range of 12.5 miles and can carry as more than 40 pounds of explosives. The number on the "Kassam counter" of the Sderot Media Center website is currently 10,046.

--  Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.

Photo: Jewish National Fund President Stanley Chesley with local kids. Credit: Sasson Tiram