There is a tiny little place, unassuming in every regard, that is generating more love than you would ever believe.
The Pina Chama (literally, ‘warm corner’) is a modest snack bar for soldiers and police serving the area of Gush Etzion. It’s located at Gush Etzion Junction, on Route 60 leading to Hebron. It was set up in 2001, in memory of two local men who were murdered by terrorists on the road. Dr. Shmuel Gillis of Karmei Tzur and Tzachi Sasson of Rosh Tzurim. On a typical day the Pina Chama serves around 200 soldiers, all without charge. The past two weeks have been anything but typical.
Since the kidnapping of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach more than two weeks ago, the area around Gush Etzion and Hebron has been flooded with soldiers searching tirelessly, day and night for any sign of the boys or the terrorists who kidnapped them.
Suddenly the Pina Chama has gone from a quiet refreshment station to a center that is regularly teeming with hundreds of soldiers grateful for a frozen slushy, a homemade cookie, a handful of dried fruit or nuts, even a sandwich. And it is ENTIRELY free.
The mayor of Gush Etzion himself, Davidi Perl, stopped by. When I asked for his thoughts he said, “The Pina Chama has become a center of giving from the heart of all of us. It started out as a corner, but is now a center. The people in Israel are all working together, taking care of the soldiers.”
It’s true; people all over Israel have been sending and bringing packages of food just to do a little something for the soldiers, show their love, and help in some way. For example, hundreds of women from Beit Shemesh participated in a mass challah-baking where they dedicated the ‘mitzva’ of the challah to the safe return of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad. They then donated the hundreds of challahs, which were brought to the Pina Chama, and distributed to area bases for the soldiers.
An entire truck filled with boxes from Kfar Saba arrived. It was incredible to see box after box unloaded knowing that families had lovingly put it all together and sent it there for the soldiers. And yet, with all that, the boxes are just a drop in the bucket as each day, at least twice a day, 100 boxes go out, sent to soldiers in the field.
Even on a Friday afternoon, on one of the hottest weekends, people kept on arriving, bringing snacks and treats for the soldiers. The Kalaty family from Ramat Beit Shemesh, the Richter family from Elazar, and numerous others. Yoni Katz, a local boy from Alon Shvut, was there with his mother and other relatives. His bar mitzvah was that very day and he had come to bring cookies that were purchased by 20 Cleveland families in honor of his bar mitzvah. Yes, Cleveland. The incredible warmth and love of the Pina Chama reaches throughout Israel and way beyond.
Actually, Yoni was not the only bar mitzvah boy to arrive during our visit. A whole group from Brazil came, in Israel for a bar mitzvah tour, bringing with them piles of boxed hotel lunches for the soldiers. In fact the place is kept going regularly by donations from all over the world.
The Pina Chama is staffed entirely by volunteers, who ordinarily cover the hours from 7am – 9pm. Lately, with upwards of 1000 soldiers coming at all hours of the day, they have been working overtime. They tell how they are there not just to serve treats to the soldiers, but to talk to them. To be surrogate parents for that tiny little interval of time, giving the soldiers attention and a little feeling of ‘home.’
Sara Weinreb, a long-time Gush resident, has been volunteering long hours of her time to help since the massive influx of soldiers to the area. She reports: “The soldiers walk in like Alice arriving in Wonderland; looking around they just can’t believe it. One soldier remained outside saying that he forgot his money. I told him you don’t need money. He was astounded. ‘What do you mean? Who pays for this? Who pays the salaries??’”
It’s simply an incredible example of achdut – unity, and ahavat chinam – loving others freely, for nothing in return. And it’s somehow managed to reach people all over the world.
A tiny structure can channel such incredible amounts of kindness, generosity and warmth. It is truly a beacon of light in a dark and difficult time.
[If you or your community would like to provide a bit of love for our soldiers at the Pina Chama email firstname.lastname@example.org]