Ailing for Years / The State Can't Spare a Dime?

Would the Kiryat Shmona municipality agree to close down a synagogue, even one of many? Meanwhile, there's only one community center there.

The Kiryat Shmona community center was the first such facility to open in Israel - and if this is what happens to the first one, it might not be the last. Other community centers may follow soon.

I remember Kiryat Shmona's center in its better days, in the 1970s. It used to be the heart of the city, and now that heart will stop beating. Residents saw it as an ever-lively source of pride, with children and adults filling it with their presence and giving it purpose; now it's set to die.

The doors didn't lock up at once, of course. The center's been ailing for years, subject to all the diseases rampant in local and national governments. The community facilities were not spared rapid privatization, with every self-sustaining activity retained and every costly activity deprived of funding. The centers were thus transformed in many places from asset to burden, something to get rid of, something to be destroyed. It's easy to abandon the blind, the deaf, those with special needs.

Other community service centers look set for similar travesty. The Kiryat Shmona municipal library, for instance, was closed more than six months ago, with seven librarians sharing three positions fired. It was only reopened after a renowned philanthropist stepped in. The state, as usual, withdrew its funding, and the gap had to be filled in by someone who had the means. This is the same state which, we are told, has the best growth rate in the world - and yet it can't spare some money for a community center, dooming it to wither and die.

The local elected officials need to know that even in times of distress, some things should not be touched. Would the Kiryat Shmona municipality agree to close down a synagogue, even one of many? Meanwhile, there's only one community center there. They will somehow always find money for the cantor and the undertaker, but will leave the underprivileged standing shamefully at the door like beggars.

Community centers have a number of guardians: the Education Ministry, the local authorities, the national association of community centers, the United Jewish Appeal. It is infuriating to discover that all of these parties are powerless to help, that all of them together lack the ability to cover a deficit of just NIS 9 million. Maybe they actually lack the will.

Every time I meet with friends from the north, they speak longingly about Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets. They do not want the rockets to kill or maim anyone, god forbid; but such an attack could bring their communities back into the picture in terms of national attention and governmental concern. Without a reminder attack, it just won't work; they feel that they are simply forgotten. The closure of the country's first community center only increases this feeling of abandonment and betrayal.