Sunday, June 19, 2011
TEN Years to the Pina Chama
Tonight the Gush Etzion community celebrated ten years to the Pina Chama, the soldiers' hospitality hut. The Mayor of Efrat Oded Revivi (left), Ass't Mayor of Gush Etzion Yair Wolf (right) and the Mayor of Kiryat Arba Malachi Levinger were among the speakers to sing the praises of the hut and the volunteers that man it.
Pina Chama founders Ruti Gillis and Ossie Sasson were on hand, as were hundreds of volunteers - both men and women. The crowd noshed, shared funny Pina Chama stories and sang along with Adam Tzachi and his band.
Exactly ten years ago, when Arab terror in Israel was at its peak, Arab murderers took the life of Dr. Shmuel Gillis, Hy'd, on the road past Efrat as he neared his home of Carmei Tzur. His wife Ruti was left to raise their five children alone.
Ten days later, a fatal shooting on our bridge on Kvish HaMinharot (the road between Jerusalem and Gush Etzion) took the life of Tzachi Sasson, Hy"d from Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim. An Arab shot him dead driving home from work. Two more children were fatherless.
Ruti Gillis (left), despondent. Instead they got together and decided to create something positive and lasting in their husbands' memories. Dr. Gillis, Hy'd, served as a doctor in the Army reserves, as well as in the hospital. Tzachi Sasson, Hy'd, was a chevraman, who loved people, and especially soldiers. Whenever he made a barbecue, he added some steaks for the chayalim serving nearby. Both men were dedicated to the soldiers who help Hashem protect us.
So Ruti and Ossie (left) came up with the perfect idea – one that their husbands' would have loved. They created a little place called the Pina Chama (a cozy corner) where soldiers can come for a bit of rest, for a nosh or just a kind word. The Pina Chama was founded by Ruti and Ossie ten years ago in their husbands' memories. The Gush Etzion Regional Council donated a caravan for the endeavor, and we set up a hospitality hut right at the Gush Etzion Junction. Soldiers from as far south as Beit Chaggai and Chevron come to the Pina Chama on a break, as well as soldiers from as east as Tekoa, Nokdim and Meitzad, as far north as Kever Rachel and as far west as Derech HaLamed Hei.
At first, for a few hours a day, women from Efrat and Gush Etzion would volunteer their time to serve the soldiers. Those who couldn't come out to the Pina Chama had volunteered to bake.
Today B"H, the Pina Chama is open from 7 AM until 9 PM every day except Shabbat. On my busy morning shift, we usually serve more than 70 chayalim. On a broiling hot day, they come in for a cold drink. When the rain is pouring, they come in for hot soup. On an average day 250 soldiers of every rank and every unit stop off at the hut for a cup of hot coffee, a freshly baked chunk of chocolate cake, and a smile.
They come in to the Pina Chama for a minute or ten, and we fuss over them, and think of our own sons who are serving in not-such-friendly surroundings. We stuff them with goodies and then they're back in their jeeps off to the scene of an attack in Beit Lechem or a shooting near Chevron. Sometimes on my shift, a religious soldier takes a few minutes out to pray. Sometimes they read the morning paper or call home.
They call us "dodot" (aunties, dear ones). They bless us, and give us momentos of their units to hang in the caravan. They write us thank you notes and draw us pictures. They laugh with us and they tell us we're making them fat, and they even say sweet soppy thing. Many of them are not religious, and in the Pina Chama for the first time they have the opportunity to interact with religious people and with settlers.
We keep a guest book, and the boys aren't shy to write. Here are some of their entries:
"To our dodot hayekarot (dear aunties), Thank you for everything. Continue your holy and blessed work and know that this 'small thing' that you're giving the chayalim over here is in our eyes an entire world. May you merit everything good – health, long life."
"To the aunts and mothers, We've been at this post for only five days and we've already fallen in love with you. Lots and lots of thanks. May you be healthy and happy."
"Thank you for the food, for the help and the support you give all of us from captain to private. There are no words to tell you how much we love all you mothers – from the first of you who say 'good morning' to us until the last at night. We come to you from Chevron, Carmei Tzur, Pnei Chever, Abu Sneneh and then go back to Chevron with our feelings strengthened."
If you ask any woman (or man) in Gush Etzion what is her/his favorite day of the week, s/he will tell you. It's the day s/he serves in the Pina Chama.
Everything that needs to be done for the Pina Chama is done by volunteers – almost 500 of them a month. And each one of us feels that it's our place. We are all a part of it, even our children. Whenever there's a school holiday, the mothers bring their kids, so they will learn what it is to do chesed and serve others, especially our precious soldiers who put their lives on the line each day for us.
We stand in the Pina Chama – ready with the coffee cups lined up, the spoon at attention in the sugar, and the cakes set out on a tray like a checkerboard – chocolate vanilla, chocolate vanilla. The chayalim come in jeeps or trucks or buses – two, five, 25 and we have to be ready. Coffee two sugars. Nescafe three sugars. Bots (Turkish coffee) three sugars. Recently I dished out so much sugar, I screamed, "Hasn't anyone here ever heard of diabetes."
I really have to update these figures, but the last time I checked, during the course of the week, the Pina Chama uses 12 kilos of sugar, 30 bags of milk, 10 cans of instant coffee, 10 cans of Turkish coffee, 3,000 hot cups, 3,000 cold cups and six giant tubs of soup.
From the depths of the loss of two special souls – Dr. Shmuel Gillis and Tzachi Sasson, Hy'd – the residents of Gush Etzion have nurtured a project that has done more good than we can even imagine – the Pina Chama for our soldiers.
To view a clip from tonight's TENTH Anniversary Celebration - click here on Voices TV: