Monday, May 24, 2010

Alone in Pina Chama

I had Pina Chama today. That means I volunteered to serve coffee and cake for two-and-a-half hours to Israel Defense Force troupes. Pina Chama, the Soldier's Hospitality Hut, is located on the Gush Etzion Junction.
I volunteer on a regular basis with my friend, Jill, an olah (immigrant) from Australia. We're a great team! Together, we make between 40 and 80 cups of coffee on a Monday morning, and cut up about five cakes. The soldiers come in for a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning, or a cold cup of Slush on a hot morning. But they're always thrilled to see the home-baked cakes provided by hundreds of volunteers from communities throughout Efrat/Gush Etzion.
Teaming up from the Start
Jill and I have been partners in Pina Chama since it began in 2001, as a memorial to two Gush Etzion residents who were killed on the way home from work by Arab terrorists. Dr. Shmuel Gillis was a hematologist, killed a few hundred meters passed the Gush Etzion Junction, near his home in Carmei Tzur. Tzachi Sasson was killed right on the bridge that connections Jerusalem and the Gush.
Both of their wives wanted to do something to remember their husbands in a living and positive way. Since Dr. Gillis and Tzachi Sasson both served in the Army reserves, and they were close to soldiers in so many ways, their wives wanted to dedicate a little corner to show our appreciation to our servicemen for putting their lives on the line to protect our communities and our families.
Volunteers poured in to help with this project. And now, about 300 men and women volunteer every month to host the soldiers.
In the course of the day, we volunteers make a total of about 200 cups of coffee. We serve dozens of cakes and hundreds of cookies. And when the machines are working, we've got fresh hot popcorn and freezing cold Shlush.
Soldiers from all over the region take their break with us, or pop in as they're driving down Route 60. They read the papers, play foozball or backgammon, they rest their heads or they pray. Pina Chama is a place where soldiers can be safe and comfortable. It's also a place where we pamper them with the yummiest of goodies and the warmest of smiles.
They drive up in their jeeps, their Armored Personnel Carriers, or hike in with 100 pounds of equipment on their backs.
They come in to warm up, cool down, dry off, rest or call their Moms/girls/friends. They appreciate us, and we adore them. They present us with their hats, their pins, their epaulets and all kinds of souvenirs as a "thanks". Really, walk in to Pina Chama, and it's an absolute museum of Army memorabilia.
The soldiers call us, "Dodot" (aunties), and wherever we are around the country, if we tell an 18-40 year old guy that we volunteer in the Pina Chama, every door is open to us.
Volunteering at Pina Chama is the highlight of everyone's week.
In fact, today was a really special day - I got a "hat" and a "diskette cover" from the soldiers as a gift today (not for me personally but for Pina Chama).
So what's the problem??
Today, my partner was unavailable and I wasn't organized enough to get a replacement. (Usually, I ask my friend, Sue, but, it's been such a busy week....) So I had to serve in Pina Chama alone. Before the shift started, in order to get a head start, I lined up 15 cups with one teaspoon of coffee in each. I immediately began cutting cake and made a second layer of brownies, double-fudge cookies, banana cake and gooey-chocolatey-something just in case there'd be a rush. (Jill would have been proud of me.)
And rush there was! In my two-and-a-half hour shift, I served about 60 soldiers. (My record is 90, but that's with Jill together.) Sixty alone is nearly impossible - coffee for everyone, cake, slush, special-orders of Turkish coffee and hot cocoa. Extra plates so that soldiers could take cake to their buddies, coffee with caps to take out to the jeeps.
Not so bad? In between, the floor's got to be swept, the tables dried from those spilled coffees, the counters wiped down to prevent ants, the dishes and knives washed, the cold juice machine filled (did I put enough mix in it??), the kumkum (percolator) filled, the slush machines regulated (too icy? too loose? too sweet? too bland?) and the newspapers refolded. And don't forget the coffee cups have to be ready with one spoon of coffee in each, and the cake tray has to be filled to capacity with lines of contrasting-colored cakes.
I had great soldiers today - from posts in Hebron, Carmei Tzur, Shavei Shomron, the Gush Etzion base. They were Israeli, Ethiopian, American, Russian and French. Privates, captains, colonels. Regular forces and reserve soldiers. Religious, secular, traditional, curious. One sugar, please, two sugars, no sugar, three sugars, and Sukrazit.
But there was no time to shmooze today, because Jill wasn't there!! And no time to sit until a sudden quiet about 15 minutes before the end of my shift. I did my best to leave the Pina Chama clean and the trays attractively full. But Jill's really the make-the-cake-tray-look-great expert.
I did my best, but it ain't easy to serve alone in the Pina Chama. I appreciated my partner before, but I really appreciate her now!! Still, I stood up to the challenge!! I just hope I won't ever have to do that again. Forgot to tell you, the shlush machine is making noise. Well, that will be the worry of the next pair of volunteers.
If you'd like to peek in at Pina Chama, here are some clips:


  1. I'm sure that you and Jill make a super team. I've known her even longer than I've known you f2f.
    As a soldiers' mother, I really appreciate all you guys do. When my youngest was stationed in your neck of the woods, he was once there and having a friendly talk with the volunteer. Suddenly he said:
    "My mother has a lot of friends in Efrat." You guessed it; she (the volunteer) was one of them!

  2. I am soo soo proud of you & my sister in law Jill, & wish you both koach & bracha to serve those coffees & keep the cake trays full.
    xxx to 2 wonderful women,
    Di Kuchar (Sydney)

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