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JNF Wire: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray Visits Sderot Indoor Recreation

June 24, 2015
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
212-879-9305 x222
       By: Leiba Chaya David

Seattle Mayor Murray at Sderot.jpg

JNF’s Yoel Rosby (in checkered shirt) leads tour of JNF’s Sderot Indoor Recreation Center

for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (in blue shirt) and delegation.

In Israel earlier this month to address the annual LGBTQ conference, attend the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, and participate in an international trade mission, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s trip itinerary reflected his interest in seeing and experiencing the country in all of its complex dimensions. In the middle of a busy week that included visits with Israeli and Palestinian officials, conversations with Palestinian students, and meetings with hi-tech and clean energy entrepreneurs, the mayor also found time to visit the southern town of Sderot – located in an area that saw thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza during last summer’s war. His Sderot tour included an overlook by the Israel-Gaza border, a current events briefing, and a visit to the Sderot Indoor Recreation Center, one of the world’s largest indoor playgrounds.

As Mayor Murray learned on his visit, the recreation center – built in 2009 by Jewish National Fund (JNF) – is quite unlike any other indoor playground in the world.  

The 21,000 square-foot facility was constructed in an old textile warehouse and fortified with 340 tons of steel. Play areas double as bomb shelters, ensuring that all occupants can quickly reach safety in the event of a “Code Red” rocket alert. Attractions include a soccer field and volleyball court, movie theater, disco, rock climbing wall, snack area, computer center, jungle gym, and swings. The center hosts weekly performances by clowns, magicians, and puppeteers; a disco night for teens; and tutoring and homework workshops staffed by college students. There are three therapy rooms to help children suffering from trauma. Local schools utilize the center for field trips, special events, and holidays, and day camps hold sessions there during the summer months. It is also used for community events and as a meeting place for social service groups.

The center made a very strong impression on Mayor Murray, who commented:  “Obviously, for an American, a playground that is missile-proof is pretty depressing and shocking. But it provides a way for families to be normal in a very complicated geopolitical situation, and that is inspiring.”

Sderot, located less than a mile from the Gaza Strip, has endured continual rocket attacks for nearly a decade. A recent study indicated that some 75 percent of children ages 4-18 in Sderot suffer from post-traumatic stress, including sleep disorders and severe anxiety.   

As JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson explains, children in Sderot don’t have the luxury of playing freely. “From the time a siren goes off indicating an incoming rocket, Sderot’s residents only have 15 seconds to make their way to a bomb shelter; not enough time if you’re a young child playing outside with friends or riding around the neighborhood on your bicycle, or really doing anything that kids do.”

Under these circumstances, many children do not play in public gardens or in their own backyards – even in times of relative quiet.

The Sderot Indoor Recreation Center is giving these children back their childhoods, providing them with a fun place to simply be kids. For parents, the center provides the peace of mind that their children are playing in a safe environment. Hundreds of children visit the center every week, including children that come with their families from other places in Israel on “solidarity” tours to strengthen the morale of Sderot residents.  

Seattle Mayor Murray at Sderot P2.jpgYoel Rosby, a JNF guide who led the mayor’s group tour of the recreation center, asked the mayor and his fellow visitors to imagine the following: “Some of you have kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews aged six to eight. Imagine these bright young souls not knowing any other reality than sirens sounding and rockets falling. Imagine if the only way you could protect them is to either run away to another part of the country, or to create an alternative underground life.”

Mayor Murray was particularly touched by this image. “If I had children,” he said, “I would want them to be safe. It says something very special about the spirit of Israel and the Jewish people that they can continually adapt in the face of such a challenging situation.”

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit


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