Dani Peri has been rock climbing diligently for the past seven years, scaling peaks in Spain, Italy and throughout Israel. He is one of an estimated 150 hardcore climbers nationwide, addicted to a sport that draws fans as much for its physical challenges as its social benefits. "It is like a kibbutz. When we see each other on the street, we say 'hi' to one another or eat something together," says Peri, who teaches a climbing course at the newly opened Jerusalem branch of the Israeli Center for Climbing. The new center opened in Teddy Stadium with an NIS 1 million investment by Ariel Kunik, an owner of four Israeli climbing walls. It boasts 700 meters of total wall height, and around 20 sections and 50 routes set off by different rock colors. With the help of an experienced staff of eight, anyone aged five to 105, experienced or disabled, is invited to climb. "It is close to home, extreme and very experiential for small groups," says veteran climber Yehuda Karniel. According to Israeli Center for Climbing manager Adi Dinovich, there are about 10,000 regular weekly climbers nationwide. Five times a year there are national climbing championships, and representatives are sent to European championships by different organizations. "It's really a social sport," says Dudi Bronfman. "When someone is bouldering, practicing moves on a wall closer to the ground, and cannot make a difficult step, his friends and other climbers come to give suggestions and solve the problem together." "If it's a hard cliff, obviously you won't talk to your friends, but besides the exercising aspect, the sport is all about being social," adds Itai Friedman, Peri's friend. "I used to work at the Kiryat Ono wall," says a Jerusalem climbing center employee , "but even though I'm new to the area, I know everybody climbing at the local center because of the climbers' community." The year-round activity opens the respiratory system, stretches and works the muscles - especially ones people don't usually use - and strengthens the fingers. There are different levels of routes, and people can tell if they have improved. It builds motivation, flexibility and strength, explains Karniel, and takes planning - where next to put one's hands and legs. "This could be a social sport," says Shachar Shaharzouta, "but I approach it more as a physical challenge." Shaharzouta, who had long been on the lookout for a fun and affordable hobby, fell for rock climbing at first sight. The first time he came to the Jerusalem wall he bought a multiple entry ticket. The second time he traded in his ticket for a monthly pass, and the fourth time he bought shoes. Currently, there are about 40 visitors per day, but Dinovich hopes that number will eventually reach 150. An advertising campaign is planned for the week of August 5. In addition to the current adults classes, beginning in September the center will offer a parents-belaying-children climbing class for kids aged five to eight, and advanced and beginner classes for youth aged eight to 11, and 12-15 respectively. These classes are held once a week for NIS 220 a month, and twice a week for NIS 270 a month. "Not every weight lifter is good at rock climbing. The sport uses different muscles, and one needs thought, concentration and dedication," says Peri. "You can work out, but to learn how to climb, you need to go climbing." Once you learn how to climb indoors, you can try climbing in nature. Climbing cliffs nearby include Hinnom Valley, near the City of David, and Ein Farat and Shilat, near Modi'in.

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