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).

 

Rabbi Elyashiv dies at age 102

 Israel National News is reporting the death of 102 years old Rabbi Elyashiv in Jerusalem. See the story here. The Jerusalem Post’s report can be read here.

During my time in Israel, I had a single occasion to be near the venerated rabbi. I wrote about that event here.

It’s a good thing . . .

. . . that I’m not drinking Dr. Pepper now, because most of the few stores in Israel that sold it have removed it from their shelves. It seems there is a kosher issue, of sorts.

Don’t be alarmed, the formula of the sweet delight hasn’t been changed. It’s still the pleasure that you remember,  even if you prefer Dublin Dr. Pepper over Dr. Pepper.  (If you don’t know what Dublin Dr. Pepper means, skip over it for now.)

You can read some blog reports about what happened to Israel’s limited supply of Dr. Pepper, but I’ll thumbnail it for you here: The Dr. Pepper company in Britain, which apparently is a major importer to Israel, has a hechsher (kosher stamp) from an organization that “certifies” OR “approves” items as kosher. There’s a difference, and this is where it can get tricky.

“Approves” means that based on an interview with the company the supervisor determines the product is kosher. “Certifies” means the kosher supervisor actually visits the company and inspects the product to determine it is kosher. In a case where the supervisor certifies an item as kosher, that certification is valid only in Britain. Thus when the certified cans of Dr. Pepper were shipped to Israel, the certification became invalid. The end result of this discovery (the illegitimate kosher stamp) was that the London-sourced cans were removed from the shelf, leaving mostly French or Polish made Dr. Pepper. And, who wants one of those?

For those with no experience with kosher rules and/or practices, this may sound really strange or overbearing or unnecessary. But in the Orthodox Jewish world, following the dietary rules isn’t something left up to chance or personal choice.

If you have little or no idea what kosher is, you can read more in this article by the Kosher London Beis Din, “. . .  one of the world leading kosher certification agencies operating in 50 countries across 6 continents.. . . “

Here’s a Test of Significant Proportions

According to Israel National News, a group of Jews have petitioned the Jerusalem District Police (again) to allow them to make the biblically proscribed Passover lamb sacrifice ON the Temple Mount.

In some sense this petition will once again be a test of Israel’s sovereignty over the Temple Mount, but to what degree is unclear because of the issue of political expediency. I don’t believe for a minute that the government of Israel is willing to face the wrath of the Islamic world in order to allow a minority Jewish group to practice a religious ceremony on the Temple Mount. They haven’t in the past, and I don’t expect that to change in  the near future.

Recent history (only the last few months is necessary) gives us a small example of what would happen if such a ceremony were to take place: Jews arrested for praying on Temple Mount, or declaration of Israeli heritage sites in Bethlehem and Hebron sparks clashes.

And it should be noted that if the ceremony is allowed to happen, the opposition will not be from the Islamic world alone.

Jewish Wedding

While waiting for someone at a hotel in Jerusalem, I happened upon this beautiful wedding. In the end, I was at the wrong hotel because the person I was waiting for had been moved to another hotel without his knowledge. Seeing this wedding eased the sting of being at the wrong place for a couple of hours.