RIP: Toni Doreen Childers

toni-300x72pxToni Doreen Childers died this morning after a long illness.

Toni was born April 7, 1937 in San Antonio and grew up in Goliad, Texas. Both cities influenced her interest in Texas history. She attended Baylor University where she studied theater and design and was selected 1955-56 Baylor Beauty. Baylor University is also where Toni met her husband to be, Donald Pope Childers.

After their marriage, the couple moved about the southern United States, following Donald’s assignments in the US Marine Corps. They eventually settled in Odessa, Texas where Donald continued his career as a lawyer until his death in 1978.

In addition to her interest in Texas history, Toni was a gifted artist and designer. She enjoyed drawing and designing and making clothes.

Toni was preceded in death by her parents, Alton and Teryel Griffin, and husband, Donald Pope Childers. She is survived by her sister Pat Holford (and husband Dean, Port Lavaca, TX); son Shannon (Leander, TX); daughter, Alison (The Woodlands, TX); and daughter Colleen Dunning (and husband Craig, Arlington, TX); grandchildren Christin, Asenith, Grace, and Zach; and four great grandchildren.


I know it’s just Twitter, but …

I know it’s just Twitter, and people say all kinds of “brave” things from behind a computer monitor, but these tweets accurately reflect the feelings/thoughts of a number of people in parts of the Middle East.

There is hope for a changed perspective, though; these were also the feelings of Respondent Four, who participated in my research. See his story here.

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Israel Tour Highlight #137010: Repost

Beniko Gihon #137010
Beniko Gihon #137010

In honor of International Holocaust Day, I re-post this Israel tour highlight.

Working with tour groups in Israel is [almost] always a blessing. It’s exciting to see visitors’ faces when, as they say in Hebrew, “the coin falls.” In other words, when “the light comes on” or the connection between a certain event and place happens. I love to see the joy of discovery, especially as it relates to the Bible. But my groups generally have modern cultural and historical interests, too. Every group is different, and I’m regularly on the look out for things out of the ordinary, not on the itinerary that will make my group’s visit to Israel more special than it might already be. For this group, I found that special historical gem in the breakfast line.

As I approached the special-order egg line, I noticed the tattoo on his arm, 137010. Immediately, I knew he was a holocaust survivor because I’ve seen these tattoos in the museum, and probably a dozen times in person. However, I never had the nerve to ask the bearer to share his/her story; I just imagined what it might have been.

This time was different. I took a deep breath and asked the elderly gentleman a) if he spoke Hebrew, and b) if I could ask a question. “Yes,” he answered to both questions. I was hesitant, but I proceeded to ask if he would tell me the story of the numeric tattoo that appeared on his left forearm. I was afraid he would be embarrassed, but he wasn’t. In fact, he seemed pleased that I asked.

Beniko Gihon #137010
Beniko Gihon #137010

Interacting with my inquiry about his tattoo, he said, “My name is Beniko Gihon; in Germany my name was changed to 137010. I am a Jew originally from Greece.” He continued with a moving, two-minute version of his story. His family had been rounded up in Thessaloniki, and he was the only survivor. Over the course of five years, he was systematically transferred to/from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Warsaw Ghetto, and Dachau. He had a variety of jobs, but mainly focused on his work in the crematoria.

I was translating his story for a man from my group and noticed that others had started to lean in closer to listen in on our conversation, which indicated that they found this interesting, too. After a couple minutes, his eggs and mine were ready, so, unfortunately, we had to bring this encounter to a close. I thanked him for sharing his story, we shook hands, and parted ways.

I found a table near my group and sat down by myself. To say that his story was gut wrenching would be an exaggerated understatement. But, his story wasn’t the thing that affected me the most. It was the question he posed: “Why were the Christians so quiet?”

I wanted my group to hear Beniko’s story, but I wondered if that would be asking too much. As I ate my breakfast, I kept an eye on him from across the room and wondered whether I should ask him to speak on the bus. Since he didn’t seem to mind my initial inquiry, I decided to go for it, and the outcome was just what I had hoped.

After my group boarded the bus, I brought them up to speed on what was about to happen, then I introduced Mr. Beniko. He climbed the stairs and stood proudly in the front of the bus and began to share his story.

Beniko, which is the Greek version of Benjamin, started with some details of his family and how the Nazis came to Greece and killed so many. The rest were taken to the labor and death camps in Germany and Poland, which is where he learned to speak German, and where his name was changed to 137010.

His story lasted longer than I had given him, which I knew it would. But, seeing him standing in the front of the bus and hearing his biography was worth every minute.

Some specific details that pierced my heart:

“I saw, with my own eyes, the soldiers toss little children in the air and shoot them like birds.”

“As people were herded off the trains near the crematoria, they pleaded with the soldiers to know where their children or parents were. The soldiers would point to the smoke rising out of the crematoria and say, ‘there they are.’”

“The people were packed so tightly into the ‘showers’ that when the Zyklon B gas was released they all died standing, and only fell to the ground when the doors were opened. As we removed the bodies, we could see the scratches on the walls where those on the outer edges were trying to claw their way out.”

As a worker at the crematoria, “I collected the fat that came from the bodies as they were burned. The Nazis used the fat to make soap for us prisoners, and I bathed with soap that may have been made from the remains of my parents and other family members.”

Beniko’s story, made the horrors of the Holocaust real and personal for us, impacting each in a slightly different way. I tried to give some current perspective to his presentation because the easy thing would be to say, “I wasn’t there” because none of us were. I reminded the group of the words of James 1:27 that pure religion is to care for the widows and orphans, which I understand to mean “take care of those who can’t take care of themselves.” I also think that being born again demands that Christians have an active interest in “the least of these” (Mt 25).


Tragic and Ironic: Israel Expands Abortion in 2014

This article from Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper ends the year on a downer for me.

Beginning in 2014, Israel will fund all abortions for women 20-33. While such news isn’t surprising for me, it is certainly heartbreaking and tragic. The “progressive” attitude of Israelis toward abortion is ironic in at least four ways:

1. The expansion of abortion in Israel contradicts a very famous Jewish dictum sourced from the Talmud:

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he has destroyed a whole world. And whoever saves a life it is considered as if he saved a whole world. ” – Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 (37a)

Adam was created alone, some suggest, to demonstrate the value and potential of a single human life.

According to the article, because of the new rule “another 6,300 additional women are expected to have state-funded abortions next year.” Therefore, in Talmudic terms, the expansion of abortion in Israel will destroy the whole world an estimated 6,300 additional times in 2014.

2. The expansion of abortion in Israel contradicts the Israeli mantra “never again.” One outcome of the holocaust in which some 6,000,000 Jews were murdered is a social/national/military commitment “never again” to allow others to come close to destroying the Jewish people. Yet, Israeli Jews are doing it to themselves.

If this number of additional abortions weren’t bad enough, state health officials say “they hope to make eligibility for state funding universal in the future.”

3. The expansion of abortion in Israel contradicts the demographic concerns of Israeli Jews. It is common knowledge that many Israeli Jews are concerned about the low Jewish birth rate as it compares to a relatively higher Arab birth rate in Israel because of the democratic nature of the government of Israel. In other words, if Jews continue to kill their children in increasing numbers before they are born, the Arab population will continue to inch forward as a result of a higher birth rate, and theoretically could surpass the number of Israeli Jews. And thus, endanger the existence of the only Jewish state in the world.

4. The expansion of abortion in Israel contradicts the Jewish principle of Tikun Olam (“repairing the world”), which is appropriately credited as a motivating factor for the many positive contributions of Jews to the betterment of the world (see Michael Ordman’s Good News From Israel for examples).

Of these additional 6,300 children who are expected to be killed through abortion in 2014, how many would have become educators? Scientists? Doctors? Good neighbors? I wonder how many children those 6,300 children would have had, and among that generation, how many would have been educators, scientists, doctors, and good neighbors? Of course that 2nd unborn generation would also have had children. How many is impossible to know, but I wonder how many of them would have contributed to Tikun Olam. That question can be extrapolated out endlessly as is explained in point 1 above . . . saving a life equals saving the world.

To this point, I have only considered those babies that are expected to be killed in 2014. What about those killed through abortion in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, . . . and their generations of descendents?

This decision may appear to some to be both generous and an expansion of women’s rights and protections. However, a quick scratch of the surface reveals that it is only fool’s gold.

This Sounds Weird

Sunset, the local funeral home, has remodeled and is having an open house this weekend.

According to the article, a junior high orchestra will be performing on Saturday, and a harpist will be featured on Sunday. Kinda makes me glad I didn’t learn an instrument! You never know what kind of gig you will get. 

And to make things feel a little less weird, those who register will have the chance to win door prizes and get special discounts. I have an idea what the special discounts might include, but what kind of door prizes would one win at a funeral home open house? I may need to stop by just to find out!

I know, I know: We will all need them one day, but really, an open house? That just sounds weird.

UPDATE: By 11:30 on Saturday, I was the only one who had shown up for the open house. In fact, the orchestra didn’t even show up. They still haven’t called to tell me that I won a door prize (it was a $100 gift card), so others may have shown up after me.

The open house wasn’t exactly what I had expected; I had two workers escort me around the facilities, showing me each area. It lasted about 5 minutes and I left with the feeling I had a good chance to win the door prize.

Day of Atonement: Kaparot

Kaparot is a controversial practice among some orthodox Jews whereby they sacrifice a chicken prior to the Day of Atonement. It is controversial in many quarters: among the animal rights activists, among the religiously non-observant, and among biblicists.

The animal rights activists are against this practice for a variety of reasons: the most obvious reason being that the chickens’ throats are being cut with a razor blade. However, they also protest this practice as being cruel because the chickens are reportedly kept in small boxes standing in the sun without food or water sometimes for up to a few days. Some also suggest that the way the chickens are secured by their wings being held back, can only cause pain and distress for the chickens.

The religiously non-observant see this practice as ghoulish and cruel, suggesting that placing sins on someone else is unfair or silly. Some simply protest it as nothing more than superstitious cruelty.

The biblicist finds this practice controversial because it sort of resembles the Day of Atonement ritual in that it captures the element of substitutionary atonement, but misses most of the details: The biblical practice of which this is a derivative is described in Leviticus 16 and includes a priest, sacred clothing, incense, a holy place, a bull, a ram and two goats; none of which are either available for or used in the kaparot ceremony.

WARNING: The video is VERY graphic!

Choosing Thomas

The Dallas Morning News has published a beautiful article Choosing Thomas, which details the heartbreaking and joy giving story of TK and Deidra Laux whose son Thomas was a victim of Trisomy 13.

As a parent who has walked this path, I want to complement the staff of The Dallas Morning News on a wonderful job of presenting this story, capturing the heartache and disappointment and fear that parents feel when faced with the terrible news: “There appear to be some serious problems.” The staff also did a wonderful job in capturing the surprising joy that a baby with “serious and fatal problems” brings to his/her parents and family and friends.

As I watched the video and read the accompanying article(s) and journal, I continually thought: This is our story. That’s what happened to us.

However, our story was different in that our Abigail Hope didn’t survive to birth; she was stillborn. Our story was also complicated by the fact that it took place in Israel, far away from our family and most of our life friends.

We were thankful that there were a few people here who hurt with us, but so many seemed to dismiss our situation as nothing too serious. Perhaps some just didn’t know what to say, which is common. But in many cases, it was simply a cultural callousness toward these types of things. At least one person assumed Abigail didn’t have a name yet, thus she didn’t have “person hood.” He was wrong on both counts. Others blindly followed the traditional Jewish thought that a life duration of more than thirty days establishes a human being as a viable person. If a child dies before that time, he is considered to not have lived at all.

The medical community offered no comfort either since they could only think of one thing to say: “TERMINATE NOW!” In fact, the country’s expert in 3-D ultrasound and genetic abnormalities was shocking in his callousness: In response to our question regarding the reasonable expectation of length of life for Abigail should she survive to full term, he said, “Not long, but I would hope she wouldn’t live one second! Her problems are too severe to want her to live. My advice is to terminate NOW!” Unfortunately, that wasn’t his only disaster in bed side manner, but I’m not interested to recount the others here.

“Terminate now,” was so foreign to our thoughts, the doctors all thought we had parachuted in from another galaxy. We insisted that we wouldn’t even consider killing Abigail, and the doctors looked at us in utter disbelief and disdain. Who were we to be so resistant to their advice? They were the experts; and they know the outcome of these situations. I knew our position was right, but it was nice to hear other parents in our situation agree with us – even three years later: Toward the end of the video report [in a voice over the funeral scenes] Deidre Laux clearly articulated our thoughts: “We didn’t not terminate because we were hanging onto some sort of hope there was a medical mistake or there was going to be some some sort of medical miracle. We didn’t terminate because he’s our son.” Because Abigail was our daughter! We loved her, broken body and all; how could we even consider breaking her body more?

Burial is another point at which our story and the Lauxes’ diverge. In Israel, most cemeteries are religiously segregated, which is to say that Abigail couldn’t be buried in a Jewish or Muslim cemetery, the most abundant cemeteries here. As it turned out, she wasn’t welcome to be buried in the evangelical Christian cemetery either, which is a story in itself.

This all happened so fast, and the hospital staff was pressing us for an answer regarding the disposition of the body. Dealing with death, especially that of our own child, in Israel was all new to us. We didn’t know to whom to turn. And it was late Thursday afternoon, which is to say that the Sabbath was quickly approaching and things would be shutting down for the weekend. We made a few phone calls, only to reach dead ends or endless stalling, which we understood to be a no without actually saying, “no.” Meanwhile, the hospital was pressing for an answer.

Finally, we decided to use the service of the Jewish burial society, who gathers the bodies of all children under the age of 30 days and buries them in an unmarked grave. I guess to their credit, even though they don’t consider the children to have genuine person hood, at least they give them a somewhat proper burial.

I recommend this video report to you. If you aren’t familiar with the emotions and thoughts and struggles that take place when parents are told, “there are some problems,” this report will give you some insight.

If you are struggling with the issue of termination, please watch the video – to the end.

In our days on this road, we leaned heavily on each other, but more heavily upon the Lord: “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper! (Psalm 30:10)” He was, and continues to be.

For the Practical Among Us

At CasketFurniture.Com you can get a practical piece of furniture like the Rayonnant Eternaltainment Center pictured here. “It comes apart quickly to create your final place of rest.” Additionally, once the center “casket is removed, the two sides slide together and can be used [by those left behind] for years to come.”

“Why buy a casket for just one day? At, our products can last you a lifetime, and still be the perfect vehicle to carry you to the great beyond. Whether it’s a couch, shelf, or end table, our products are designed to blend effortlessly into most contemporary interior designs. Every product can also be transformed into a high-quality casket at your time of need. Shop our current product selection below, or contact us to find out about custom manufacturing to suit your individual needs.”

He Was a Gentle Soul

I first met Phil Berg in August of 1990. At that time, he was working at the Institute of Holy Land Studies (currently known as Jerusalem University College) as the campus manager and all-around odd-jobber. We both lived upstairs in the main building of the old Bishop Gobat School on Mount Zion. At the top of the stairs our doors faced each other, his on the north, mine on the south. Phil’s door was almost always open throughout the day and late into the nights. He was a quiet, contemplative man, a voracious reader and usually could be found in his room reading a book about the Middle East.

One of the things I remember most about Phil is that he was always even tempered with a selfless spirit, ready to help in whatever way had been requested of him. Whether it was carrying luggage up or down the narrow and steep stairs, shuttling people to or from the airport, or opening the Oasis at an odd hour, Phil was willing to serve.

Phil served me in a different way, though. During the fall 1990 semester, the prospects of war in Iraq were growing every day. Frequently, Saddam Hussein published threats to launch an assault on Israel. Tensions among Israelis were growing in a noticeable way, and I wasn’t terribly affected by all the threats of destruction…until one particular day when I became pretty anxious about the whole thing. On that day, Phil had opened the Oasis and I was the only customer. We struck up a conversation about the white elephant in the room, the pending war, and in a moment of vulnerability, I shared with Phil how I was feeling about it all. I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember the effects of his message: my soul was instantly calmed.

I was so moved by that moment that I wrote it up in a short story and sent it to Decision magazine, thinking it might be published. It wasn’t, but that doesn’t reduce the importance of what I learned when Phil demonstrated two Bible verses for me:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Proverbs 25:11 KJV).”

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29 NASB).”

Phil, I’m a better person for having known you. Thanks.

You can read Todd Bolen’s tribute to Phil here.