In memory of victims of Palestinian terror and to show gratitude to Israel’s dedicated soldiers, a “home-away-from-home” was established in Gush Etzion.
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler, United With Israel
Since 2001, the height of Israel’s Second Intifada, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers have had a welcoming place where they can get food and drinks at no charge, socialize, play games or just relax. Called “Pina Chama” (Warm Corner), this special place is located at the Gush Etzion junction in Judea.
“More than 350 people volunteer at the Pina Chama every month from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Sharon Katz, a resident of the Gush Etzion neighborhood of Efrat, told United With Israel. ” Men, women, yeshiva and seminary students serve and socialize with hundreds of soldiers who walk through our door every day on their way to or from their base or post. They stop by on a break to cool off on a boiling day or warm up from the cold.”
Each month, hundreds of volunteers bake cakes and cookies for the approximately 250-500 IDF soldiers who come daily to enjoy a snack and a comfortable place to rest and recharge. Most treats are brought to the Pina Chama from Gush Etzion residents and the nearby neighborhood of Beit Shemesh.
Supplies are made possible through donations, and the upkeep and infrastructure are covered by the local councils of Gush Etzion and Efrat.
For holidays, like Sukkot, Chanukah and Passover, extra effort is made to supply goodies to the soldiers who must serve instead of spending time with their family and friends.
Each year, for Israel’s Independence Day, volunteers prepare an elaborate BBQ for the nearly 1,000 soldiers who visit throughout the day.
Katz has been volunteering at the Pina Chama since its inception.
“My partner Jill Kuchar and I have been serving IDF soldiers since its first week, 18 years ago,” she said. “Then, we stood on an empty corner behind a folding table with a thermos and a plate of cake.”
Memorial to Victims of Terror
Pina Chama was started by Ruti Gillis and Ossy Sasson in memory of their husbands, Dr. Shmuel Gillis, 42, and Tzachi Sasson, 35, both murdered by terrorist gunfire in the Gush Etzion region.
A reading corner was added in memory of Yuval Heiman, killed in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. Many letters from local children thanking IDF soldiers for their service can be read in this area.
The purpose of Pina Chama is to show love and appreciation to the soldiers, who put themselves in harm’s way protecting the country and its citizens. Also, many of them are not from the Gush Etzion region, and it gives them an opportunity to develop a warm relationship with the people they’re protecting.
“Many times Pina Chama is the first time soldiers meet religious Israelis and ‘settlers’,” Katz explained. “We chat with them. We welcome them with open arms and lots of love.”
Katz shared with United With Israel a heartwarming story demonstrating how close these relationships can become. “My husband Izzy and I stopped at a gas station while traveling up north in Zichron Yaakov,” she said. “An attendant started washing our windows, then looked at me, put his face right against the windshield and ran to my window, excitedly calling, ‘Doda, Doda’ [auntie auntie], it’s me, Yitzhak!”
An Opportunity for Tourists
“Every year, for the past seven years that I come to Israel, the highlight of my trip is serving IDF soldiers at Pina Chama,” Ginny Nissenbaum told United With Israel. “It is so meaningful to me to provide something special and to thank the soldiers who protect us.”
Nissenbaum said she is always moved to speak to soldiers, many of whom speak English.
“It’s important to let these young men and women know that they are doing something really important,” Nissenbaum stressed. “They give us so much, and we offer them back a few moments of peace, normalcy and blessings for a safe service.”
While terrorists try to destroy Israel and its people, Pina Chama is a place that celebrates life, honors brave IDF soldiers and brings unity.
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