Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pina Chama Perfection - Bestest Day at the Soldier's Hospitality Hut

For the past 11 years, my partner-in-volunteering Jill Kuchar and I have  served in the Pina Chama, the soldier's hospitality hut, at the Gush Etzion Junction.
Our mornings in Pina Chama are always fabulous. We get to meet IDF soldiers and reserve soldiers from all over the country. We chat with all sorts of servicemen who are protecting citizens from near and far. 
This week with Jill and my daughter, Bati, who had a day off from college, we had an extra terrific time!! 
Interesting Folks
Everyone who came in during our shift seemed fascinating. 
We had a soldier who's lived all his life in a town of 13 families on the Egyptian border. He loves it. He said it's like paradise, not scary at all, filled with panoramic views that you'd want to photograph all the time. He said that now for the first time (because of the Sudanese infiltrations), they're having a fence put up between their hamlet and Egypt. 
We had a lovely bunch from Hebron, who are very happy that thousands are coming to Me'arat HaMachpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs) to pray during this month of Elul and late night  Selichot services.
We had soldier whose shift kept him up all night, and who stepped in to the Pina Chama for a hot drink before he went to sleep for the day. He place his tea on the table beside him, and then stepped over to the corner and quietly prayed. His comrades sat silently watching him with great respect.
For our Soldiers & From our Soldiers
Every morning folks pop into Pina Chama with homemade cakes, cookies and pies. About 300 women from throughout Gush Etzion/Efrat are baking-volunteers. This week the mother of a groom brought in the cake from the previous evening's wedding. Mazel tov.
We were presented with a new tag (that's an Army-type gift) cause the soldiers love us. You see, when different army units finish their tour of duty in the area, they leave us with a gift to remember them by. Usually it's a hat or a tag or a flag. We hang them up for all see.

Visit by the Speaker of the Knesset
Topping off the day at Pina Chama was a surprise visit from the Honored Speaker of the Knesset Mr. Ruby Rivlin, the Mayors of Efrat and Gush Etzion - Oded Revivi and Davidi Perl - and many other distinguished guests.
We were called about 90 minutes beforehand and told to clean up extra-specially well, because we were going to have a guest. We washed down the tables, swept the floors, even swept the porch. But there were so many soldiers on that shift, we worried that we couldn't clean up fast enough, but we did.

And when I went outside to survey the cleanliness of the area, I noticed that our wall, bearing the cartoon character Srulik in an army uniform, was splattered with mud. I ran to the car and grabbed the diaper wipes in the trunk, and washed Srulik down until he was bright and shiny.
Our company arrived much earlier than we expected, but we were ready just the same. The Pina Chama shined. The cake slices were lined up like soldiers. The slush machine was filled to capacity. 
The Speaker, the local Mayors and several photographers poured into the hut with an excited air. Mr. Rivlin shmoozed with the soldiers that were taking a morning break at the Pina Chama. Boy, were they surprised.
Then the Speaker walked up to the "bar" and greeted us warmly. I made Mr. Rivlin a cup of coffee (one sugar), but he passed on our cakes. He asked how many soldiers usually visit Pina Chama - "300 a day" - and how many volunteers we have - "300 a month and another 300 a month baking."
His visit was all of five minutes long, but in those five minutes, the Mayors told him about the history of the place - created as a memorial to Dr. Shmuel Gillis of Carmei Tzur and kibbutznik Tzachi Sasson of Rosh Tzurim - and even about the surrounding area, which includes a supermarket, called Rami Levi in which Jews and Arabs shop peacefully together.
As Mr. Rivlin was leaving, my daughter/partner, Bati, told me to rush after him and present him with a Pina Chama apron. I did!! And he put it on!! Yay!!
I caught him right off of our porch, standing in front of Srulik!! Was I glad that I washed him down!
The Speaker and his party were off as quickly as they arrived.

And our shift ended just perfectly.

Photos by a) Bati Katz and b) courtesy of Gush Etzion Mayor Davidi Perl's office.

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