Snowballs fly as storm turns Jerusalem of Gold to white

A relatively rare snowstorm blanketed Jerusalem on Wednesday, closing schools, blocking roads and temporarily turning the city of gold into the city of golden-white. The wintry wonderland which Jerusalemites awoke to after days of increasingly-enthusiastic meteorological reports forecasting the great Jerusalem snowfall of 2008 sent children and adults into the streets and parks for snowball fights as a holiday spirit descended on the city. The excitement was such that for much of the day the weather - which rarely makes front-page news in Israel - temporary eclipsed news of the Winograd Report to be released later in the evening. "It's so much fun, and the city looks so clean and white," said Galit Cohen, 11, of Rishon Lezion, who was making a snowman in the city's central Sacher Park at midday. "We're freezing," her mother Sigal said, dutifully bundled up in hats and gloves as a wintry mix of snow and rain fell from the sky, "but it's wonderful." The storm, which had sent locals scouring the supermarkets all week as if a famine were on the way, surprised tourists who were so used to seeing the seemingly-eternal Israeli sun. "We didn't have any snow in Brussels this year and it's crazy that I came to Israel to see the snow," said Joel Rubinfeld, who arrived in Jerusalem on Tuesday, adding that his family did not believe him that it was snowing in Jerusalem. Later in the afternoon, as temperatures rose, the snow turned into a messy slush, with streets overflowing with water, and, with kids home from school and most shops closed, most city streets lay hushed and deserted. Heavy snow also was reported in the Golan and Safed, and throughout the West Bank. Heavy rainfall has caused the level of Lake Kinneret to rise four centimeters in the past 24 hours, Israel Radio reported Wednesday. The Water Authority announced that the level of the lake was three meters and 66 centimeters lower than the maximum level. Since the beginning of the winter, the level has only risen by nine centimeters. The Old City, including the Dome of the Rock, was coated in white, as a trickle of haredim braved the flurries and gusty wind which made the temperatures feel below freezing, their black hats covered with plastic bags to keep them dry. The Jerusalem Municipality urged city residents not to use their cars, and most obeyed, with only the adventuresome and essential workers, sending the price of a city cab skyrocketing fivefold. Most city businesses were closed throughout the day, as was the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and major tourism sites, in a capital not designed to deal with snowfalls. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Municipality's welfare department got 45 homeless people off city streets in the week leading up to the storm, said Tami Siboni, the director of the municipality's homeless division. Siboni said that the 45 homeless people - half of whom were under the age of 26 - were relocated in a small city motel which served as a temporary shelter and where hot meals were available, in conjunction with a non-profit organization, Shekel, and the Social Welfare Ministry. She added that the homeless - which were predominantly male and included several new immigrants from the former Soviet Union - were mostly drug or alcohol addicts who disconnected themselves socially and psychologically from society. About a dozen other "hard core" homeless people refused to be relocated and remained on the city streets. "We work to help the homeless year round but our work becomes more intensive ahead of inclement weather because then you are really talking about saving lives," Siboni said. About a dozen Jerusalemites with possible broken bones caused from falling on ice and snow were evacuated to hospitals by Magen David Adom ambulances on Wednesday, and five women in labor were rushed to delivery rooms. MDA said it had 19 four-wheel-drive ambulances in the capital and 20 regular ambulances with chains on their tires to get through snowy streets. There are also five ambulances with four-wheel-drive and others with chains available in the North, but MDA said there were no untoward events in the area. People should heat their homes and dress warmly, as there have been numerous cases of hypothermia in Jerusalem and other cities in hilly areas. Yad Sarah volunteers in cold areas nationwide ignored the wind, rain and snow to help others. Anyone who needs Yad Sarah's urgent help should call *6444 from any phone. More than 60 residents of the Jerusalem area were actively assisted on Wednesday by the Ihud Hatzalah religious lifesaving organization, based in the Romema quarter. The organization, which is run by volunteers, can be reached at (02) 500-2020. Jerusalem, which sees a dusting of snow not more than once or twice a winter, gets a heavy snowfall only about once every seven years. By early afternoon, the Israeli meteorological service said up to 20 cm. of snow had fallen so far in Jerusalem, with the big question on everybody's minds whether, as temperatures dipped to below freezing, there would be more snowfall overnight, leading to a second-day of canceled school and wintry delight on Thursday. For the moment though, Jerusalem was the rare envy of Tel Aviv-area residents, many of whom made the trek to the capital at the pleas of their children. By late-afternoon, a snowman-building contest was under way at Sacher Park, with Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski serving a master of ceremonies. An hour later, a snow-plow aptly named Winograd, after the retired judge heading the After a brief respite from politics and security, a wet and blustery Jerusalem was returning to normal, as residents, closeted indoors, geared up for the publication of the war report next to the heater.