Shelter, and humanity, amid the storm

Jerusalem’s largest shelter cares for 1,500 freezing, stranded – yet grateful – men, women and children during the brunt of record snowstorm.

ICC shelter from the storm 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
ICC shelter from the storm 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
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 children.
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.
Makeshift shelter at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.Makeshift shelter at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.
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 shelter.
“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 and soup.”
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 1 a.m.
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 relieved.
“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.
“Everyone helped each other and made sure each person was safe.”
Hasson said 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.
“The people 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 met.
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.”
Indeed, Abohazira said the children’s levity was contagious, elevating everyone’s mood.
“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.”