Kiryat Shmona Community Center, Israel's First, Closes

The decision brought an end to the eight months in which various attempts were made to salvage the center, which has accumulated a deficit of around NIS 9 million.

Israel's first community center was shut down last week, after the Nazareth District Court and the facility's temporary receiver agreed that it was no longer operable. The Kiryat Shmona community center had been active since 1969.

The decision brought an end to the eight months in which various attempts were made to salvage the center, which has accumulated a deficit of around NIS 9 million - about half of which is owed to some 100 employees that have passed through the facility over the years. The center also failed to allocate pensions and other allowances to its workers for the past seven years, despite being legally obligated to do so.

Until now, Kiryat Shmona's community center operated afterschool activities, a daycare center, a library, a municipal concert hall, recreational centers for the blind and the mentally disabled and more. The court said the receiver would continue running the library and concert hall.

Deputy Mayor Yigal Buzaglo said yesterday that a solution for the daycare center is in the works, while afterschool activities will now be run by the municipality's youth department.

The center's receiver, attorney Adi Raz, yesterday slammed all parties involved in running the center, saying he was repeatedly given the cold shoulder.

"I found myself on my own against everyone - the municipality, the national community center company, the Jewish Agency and even, to my surprise, past and present employees of the center itself," he said. "All of the above actively worked to get the center shut down, while I, the receiver - whose first priority is the debts and debtors - am trying to maintain the legacy for the public's benefit."

Raz also complained of "complete public apathy," noting, for example, some 600 residents signed a petition to get films screened at the concert hall, but only three to 10 viewers attended each screening.

Moshe Strul, a resident of the city, agreed with Raz. "Nobody cares about the collapse of the community center here anymore," he told Haaretz. "It's like a patient on life support - not really alive."

Former Deputy Mayor Herzl Ben Asher said the center's closure is not just a symbolic event. "All culture and leisure activities in the city used to happen around the center," he said. "Longing for those days is about more than just nostalgia. This is a sad day."

"To the city's regret," said municipal spokesman Doron Shenfer, "the receivership method chosen by the employees and debtors involves a kind of profitability test, leaving in place only profitable activities and cutting out the others. The termination of unprofitable activity is sadly a product of this decision."

Shenfer said the municipality is concerned by the closure of the community center and has stated several times in the past that it wants to assist in resolving the facility's problems, but explained that its budget does not allow it to cover the center's deficits without special permission from the Interior Ministry.