When people hear the word corner, or pina in Hebrew, many of them have a negative association – the corner of the classroom to which misbehaving children are sent. I know of a pina to which thousands of Israeli soldiers flock each week in order to relax, unwind, eat a snack and talk. It is called the Pina Chama, “the warm corner,” and it is situated at the Gush Etzion Junction.
The Pina Chama was born out of two tragedies. In February of 2001, Dr. Shmuel Gillis was returning home late at night from his work at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem to Karmei Tzur in Gush Etzion. He never made it home. Arab terrorists fired at his car, mortally wounding him. He left five children and his wife Ruti.
Ten days later, Tzachi Sasson was driving home to Rosh Tzurim in Gush Etzion. He too was murdered by Arab terrorists. He left a young widow, Ossie, a social worker who works with victims of Arab terror and their families, and two young sons.
During shiva, Ruti Gillis came up with the idea of the Pina Chama. Ruti explained why she chose the idea of a Pina Chama in order to help perpetuate her husband’s memory, “There were two layers to this decision. The first, perhaps unconscious, reason at that time was to do something positive instead of expressing my tremendous anger. The second reason is that Shmuel worked as a doctor in the army reserves. He wasn’t just a doctor to the soldiers; he was also a father to them. I thought to myself, ‘There are so many soldiers. How can I help make them happy?'”
About one month after Ossie Sasson’s husband was murdered, Ruti called Ossie and told her about her idea for a Pina Chama. Ossie told Ruti that she would like to help. Ossie told me, “I joined the effort because Tzachi used to give food to the soldiers stationed at check points and to the soldiers at the gate in Rosh Tzurim. When we had a family dinner or get-together Tzachi would run with a plate of food to the soldiers at the gate nearby… In addition to perpetuating Tzachi’s memory, I wanted to do something for our hardworking soldiers. I wanted to repay them in some way.”
The Pina Chama, run entirely by volunteers and donations, began running on Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day of 2001. Its initial structure was very modest. Volunteers stood inside a shipping container and distributed refreshments to soldiers who stood outside. Nava Eizik and Becky Avner from Efrat are the overall coordinators of volunteers and their shifts. At present there are between 400-500 volunteers.
Enthusiastic volunteer Arlene Chertof of Efrat says, “The guys are sweethearts. I love volunteering here. Even a soldier without a kippah will ask, ‘Is this pareve or dairy?’”
It isn’t only Jewish soldiers who visit. Nava described how Druse soldiers come in and praise Israel, the Jews and the Pina Chama. “It’s wonderful to meet all sorts of people and to learn about them,” said Nava. “I thrive on it. It is such a positive experience for everyone. People learn to respect all kinds of people… We get soldiers here who have never met ‘settlers’ in their lives. Their picture of us changes for the positive as a result.” Shirli Epstein said the experiences at the Pina Chama are good for PR. “We’re helping our image. It raises our profile in a positive way.” Ruti Gillis states, “The Pina Chama is a place without politics.”
The walls are covered with plaques, photos, banners from the various army units and drawings sent or brought in by the soldiers to show their appreciation. Nava has encountered many soldiers who want to pay for the refreshments so a tzedakah box was added.
On Israel Independence Day, Pina Chama hosts a barbecue. Last year over 900 soldiers enjoyed the barbecue, either by being at the Pina Chama or having the food brought to them by volunteers.
Ossie summed up what is so special about the Pina Chama when she told me, “There’s something in the Pina Chama which warms the heart. Everyone finds the good. The place reflects the positive side of people.” Ruti said, “The Pina Chama is a place of love for one’s fellow man. It is a place where connections are made.”
Often projects begin with excitement, expectation and hard work, but they peter out after a while. Keeping up the momentum is difficult. Baruch Hashem, the Pina Chama has been going from chayil to chayil (strength to strength and no pun intended) with no signs of losing steam. May Hashem grant everyone involved with this wonderful chesed project much strength and success.
If you would like to help support the important work of the Pina Chama, please contact Ira Hauser at firstname.lastname@example.org.