Northern kids escape war for a day

Thousands of children living in the North are being given a chance to escape the daily bombardment of rockets falling in their neighborhoods through day-long excursions to the center of the country organized by the Israel Association of Community Centers. Last week, the IACC mobilized over 30,000 children from northern cities and towns and sent them on three individual day-trips to amusement and water parks, including the Nahshonit Park, the Shefayim Water Park and Superland, said Dorit Rom, director of Resource Development for the IACC. The organization also put together two additional trips that left yesterday and this past Sunday with over 10,000 children in attendance each day, and is gearing up for a third trip later in the week with a similar turnout, Rom said. Many of the children taking advantage of these fully subsidized trips live in disadvantaged communities whose families are forced to take daily refuge in bomb shelters, because they cannot afford to stay in hotels away from the conflict and do not always have access to other feasible options, Rom emphasized. In addition, with the cancellation of summer camps and the government prohibiting children from participating in activities at local community centers without bomb shelters, both parents and children "were starting to climb the walls," Rom said. To provide relief for these families, the Jewish Agency has stepped in to send teenagers to boarding schools in the center of the country, but younger children do not want to be separated from their parents overnight, said Shira Moshe, an IACC coordinator. "Some of the children were in a panic day and night because of the rockets falling," Moshe said. The logistical details of the day trips are organized by IACC directors serving in over 60 centers located in the North. Each center puts together busloads of children with one counselor and one security guard on each bus that disperses thousands of children at a time to three or four parks on a given day. The centers mobilize the trips so quickly that directors barely have the time to collect the names and ID numbers of each child, said Itzik Eddry, director of the community center in Kiryat Ata. Kiryat Ata's center caters to an immigrant community from the FSU and dispatched over 16 buses with 800 children last week to parks around the country. Given the younger ages of the children, the center allowed parents to occupy at least 10 percent of the space on each bus, Eddry said. For 10-year-old Iris Chanukayev, last week's trip to Superland provided a chance to be with friends and get away from the Katyusha rockets. "I ask that they make more trips, so that we don't have to hear the bombs," she said. The excursions are funded by the $700,000 in emergency monies that IACC received from the United Jewish Communities and the Joint Distribution Committee, Rom said. She estimated the costs of the trips to be near NIS 100 per child per day. In addition to the daily field trips, the IACC has organized make-shift summer camps in some of its centers that do house bomb shelters and has provided numerous activities, including visiting clowns and magicians, to entertain children during the day, Rom said. Many organizations have also offered to donate their time for activities including Dell Computers, which provided lap-top computers for children in Kiryat Ata's Neve Hen neighborhood on Monday, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which will be providing activities later in the week, Eddfry said. For many children, however, the chance to leave the war in the north for a day was prized. "It was special to be in the water park and not have to hear the bombs," nine-year-old Shilam Shmuyalev said.