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(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON - During his three years in a Nahal infantry unit serving all around Israel, there was one type of battle the army never prepared Ami Greener for: a snowball fight.
“In the IDF, they didn’t really train you for throwing snowballs,” he said.
Still, the 36-year-old Israeli veteran held his own in the massive snowball war he helped launch in Dupont Circle on Saturday. Some 2,000 people were estimated to have attended, some equipped with trays to better gather their “ammunition” and others with trash-can lids to shield themselves from their attackers.
Like Greener, co-organizer Michael Lipin also didn’t experience much snow growing up, and he wanted to make the most of it when he heard a historic storm was brewing last week.
“I grew up in a place where it doesn’t snow,” explained Lipin, a dual US-Israel citizen, who spent most of his childhood in Hong Kong. “Now any chance to play in the snow, I try to take advantage of it.”
Lipin, who now lives in Dupont Circle and works for Voice of America, started to organize Saturday’s encounter by inviting friends through his Facebook page, with 33 people signed up by last Thursday morning.
Then Greener, who moved to Washington three years ago and runs an environment consulting business, started helping his friend get the word out through blogs and social media, including sending out his very first Tweet.
“It went from 33 people Thursday morning to 1,000 by Thursday night, to 4,000 by Friday night, to more than 5,000 before the fight,” Lipin said of those who joined his Facebook group. “It was completely crazy.”
Or as Greener put it: “Before you knew it, it started snowballing … pun intended.”
With such a high turnout out and sustained interest – another 1,000 signed onto the Facebook site after the fight ended, perhaps due to the international media reports on the event – Greener is now working to sell an official T-shirt commemorating it.
He hopes to use some of the profits to support an Israeli charity doing relief work in Haiti.
The snowball fight is being called the largest in Washington history, though Greener said the world title is held by Wisconsin, where more than twice as many students once congregated to get into the record books.
Despite the large number of strangers hurling projectiles at each other Saturday, order prevailed – though Greener and Lipin did take the step of posting a disclaimer on Facebook that they were not to be held liable for people’s behavior at the gathering.
“I was worried beforehand that it could really get out of hand,” Lipin said, but he soon saw that instead “it was all good-natured.”
In fact, many people showed up in costume, some played music, and local businesses sold food to the hungry masses, creating a bit of a festival atmosphere on the fringes of those lobbing balls of ice at one another from all directions.
The positive vibes – and the blanket of snow that kept cars off the street and otherwise largely shut down the city – ended up reminding Greener of one aspect of life in Israel.
“Snow days here remind me of Yom Kippur in Jerusalem – there’s no driving, everyone’s walking, it’s an atmosphere where everyone’s nice to each other,” he said.
And of course, everything is also white.
Greener added that the experience could be a useful one for those caught in the Middle East conflict.
“If only we had the attitude the people in the Dupont snowball fight
had, we probably could have solved the problem long ago,” he said.