Amid the chaos of perhaps the most devastating snowstorm to hit the capital in
the past 100 years, Jerusalem’s largest makeshift shelter became a scene of
order, cooperation, humanity – and even fun – for 1,500 stranded men, women and
Shortly after midnight on Friday, hundreds of freezing
motorists who abandoned their cars on Route 1 streamed into the Jerusalem
International Convention Center, located near the entrance to the city, to find
shelter, warmth and sustenance.
According to Ariel Hasson, a security
guard stationed at the center for 17 hours, shortly after the storm forced road
and highway closures, Mira Altman, the center’s CEO, in coordination with the
municipality, offered use of Teddy Hall, capable of housing 2,000 people, as a
“At a little after midnight, people who had to abandon their
cars on the highway, or were unable to get buses and trains to leave the city,
came pouring in,” said Hasson on Saturday. “For the first hour me and two
coworkers just gave them what we could find in the building’s offices, like tea
However, one hour later, Hasson said the municipality, aided
by the IDF and area police, sprang into action by delivering hundreds of
blankets, mattresses, tea, coffee, soup and ready-to-eat meals at approximately
A first-aid station was set up in the shelter, although there were
no serious medical emergencies, he said.
“People were freezing at first,
but I don’t think anyone needed a doctor except for a couple old ladies who were
overwhelmed by it all,” Hasson said.
Despite the stress of abandoning
their vehicles, compounded by the blistering storm and sub-zero temperatures,
Hasson described the mood of inhabitants of the shelter as grateful and
“Most of them were happy to get shelter, be out of the snow and
in a place where people could take care of them,” he said.
helped each other and made sure each person was safe.”
roughly half of those stranded were families who traveled to the city with their
children to see the snow, adding that 200 students from a MASA tour were
marooned, along with 25 people from a nearby wedding party.
from the wedding party came dressed in suits and nice gowns, but fortunately the
bride and groom went to a hotel,” he said.
“They were all in a good mood
and had a sense of humor about the situation.”
Hasson said more than 100
volunteers living nearby offered to help throughout the night by searching for
abandoned motorists, bringing and passing out blankets, supplying hot food, and
generally ensuring the immediate needs of the 1,500 inhabitants were
Throughout the trying ordeal, Karin Abohazira, a security guard who
aided the shelter’s inhabitants, said the mood remained light and cooperative –
buttressed by the excitement of the dozens of children who joyfully played in
the snow outside.
“The children were so happy,” she said. “They were
building snowmen and having snow fights. It was beautiful.”
Abohazira said the children’s levity was contagious, elevating everyone’s
“When the parents saw the children were so happy, then they too
became happy, and so did everyone else,” she said.
“We played with them
too,” Abohazira added, with a smile.
By 5 p.m. on Friday, Hasson said all
of the shelter’s temporary residents were driven home in military and police 4x4
vehicles, brought to the train to Tel Aviv or opted to stay with family or
friends in town.
“Overall, it was not so bad,” said Abohazira. “Actually,
the children made it special, like a fun winter camp.”