Israel Tour Highlight #137010

Beniko Gihon, #137010

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.

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). 

The Fortune Cookie Said . . .

“Don’t mistake temptation for opportunity.”

That’s REALLY good advice. Don’t be mistaken though, I don’t buy bags of fortune cookies to get direction for my life. Today’s cookie said that I would reach the highest levels of intelligence. And I’m taking that as a swing and a miss.

We Will Return, Part II

According to Haaretz News, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said, “Palestinians must resort to resistance no matter how costly it is, until Palestine is free and Israel is destroyed (emphasis added).”

That was said in Iran at an international conference supporting the Palestinian Intifada, which was headlined by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei was quite outspoken regarding the two-state solution. Among other things, he said, “Our claim is freedom of Palestine, not part of Palestine. Any plan that partitions Palestine is totally rejected,” And, as if he was intentionally confirming the content of my last post, he clarified, “Palestine spans from the river (Jordan) to the sea (Mediterranean), nothing less.”

Other reports from/about the conference:
-The full text of Khamenei’s speech is provided by the Islamic Republic News Agency.
-The Arab Monitor also has some commentary.

We Will Return!!!

Many people who are discussing a “two-state solution” to the Middle East problem are unaware of the sentiment and symbolism expressed in this photo:

The key in the photo can be found at the southern entrance to Jericho and is used both as a reminder and a warning. It is used as a reminder to the Arab people that they have an obligation to regain any territories that are considered to be stolen by the Jews (i.e. the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea). Also, it should be understood by the West to be a warning that a Jewish state is ultimately unacceptable in the neighborhood.

The key in the photo isn’t a unique example; it’s actually a well-known symbol among Palestinian refugees, many of whom still hold keys to property they (or their predecessors) left in 1948. This is why the final disposition of the Palestinian refugees “right of return” (to Israel or Palestine) and the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state are critical issues in the negotiations between the two sides in any discussion of a two-state solution.

“The Key” demonstrates that it’s much more complicated than simply having the UN declare a Palestinian state as was requested last Friday.

Word Picture of the Day: How Dangerous Can a Fool Be?

Proverbs 17:12 NASB – “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, Rather than a fool in his folly.”

This Proverb effectively uses a word picture because everybody knows a mama bear is fiercely protective of her cubs and that it is unwise to cross her path when she’s worried about her cub(s). Far fewer people think of fools as being as dangerous as an angry mama bear. However, the Bible warns us that fools are more dangerous than angry bears.

Be careful whose path you cross.

Tweeting in Church

A growing number of people (including pastors) have suggested Tweeting reactions during the sermon is a good thing. Some pastors have even encouraged their congregation to interact with the sermon in this way, and will try to respond within the framework of the sermon.

Someone asked me what I thought about that. Here’s my answer:

First, while my general reaction is fairly negative, I can’t say that nothing good could come from Tweeting during the sermon, but . . .

I think serious and sober consideration should be given to these pitfalls of Tweeting during the sermon:

Being self-centered: Tweeting seems to say, “Here’s what I think was cool about the sermon. It’s important that my followers know what I think about what was said.”

Juvenile behavior: Tweeting during the sermon seems to be little more than impetuous pass-alongs of what hit me just now, with no time to give consideration to the rightness or wrongness of the statement, or the implication of implementing what was just said only 2 seconds ago. Some things deserve more than a few moments of reflection.

Distraction to the Tweeter or others: Admittedly, I’m not capable of texting without lengthy concentration . . . (where’s the y?) . . . so it would definitely be distracting to me. “What did he say while I was Tweeting?” What about the constant “chimping” up and down the row and in front of me? Of course, I’m easily distracted by those kinds of things. I assume others are, too.

Temptation to do something else: If I don’t value what he’s talking about right now, I can just surf the net and find something that is interesting to me. BUT what about what he might say in a minute that will give clear value/meaning to what he just said that I didn’t find valuable? Everything can’t be said at one time, so why don’t I just hold on and hear the whole package? Why is so much more interesting during the sermon?

The Day After: Beware

I can’t think I would need to remind ANYONE that a certain man/Bible teacher/prophet (or whatever he actually is) predicted specific end times events would occur yesterday. And, in the aftermath of none of them coming to pass, I want to offer a word of caution to those born again Christians who have been or are starting to scoff at this man and his prediction(s) . . . and end time events.

It’s a fine line between mocking him and ending up mocking the rapture of the saints or the Lord’s return, whichever you happen to have understood him to be predicting. As May 21, 2011 approached, I watched many Christians blog/tweet/comment to the effect that “the Bible teaches that we can’t know, so this guy is a crackpot for saying so dogmatically that he knows the day . . . and this isn’t the first time he’s done this!” That’s all well and good, but we need to be careful that we don’t begin to mock the events themselves.

I found some of the bloggers and tweeters following the deadline as it moved through the various timezones easily crossing the line to essentially say, “See, I knew it wouldn’t happen today. Today is just like yesterday, which was just like the day before.” That kind of blogging/tweeting is very close to “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation. (2 Peter 3:4 NASB)”

And we don’t get a free pass to mock because a “crackpot” has predicted a certain day. Neither do we get a pass to believe that nothing can happen today because someone predicted this date. The Lord’s hand isn’t stopped because someone disobediently or incorrectly issued a time line.

In reverse order: the scriptures encourage us to look expectantly for the coming of the day of God (2 Peter 3:11-13), not be ignorant that the “slowness” of God’s promise is actually a sign of God’s patience toward us (3:8-9), and beware that scoffers will arise in the last day questioning the Lord’s coming (3:3-4).

So, in these days after, let’s please be careful that we don’t follow the path of scoffers regarding God’s promises just because someone did what they weren’t supposed to do.

Worth Reading

David Gunner Gunderson offers some wise and helpful thoughts about how we should respond to the thought that life is short . . . and they might be different than you assume.  Life is short so don’t waste it

Pastor Wade Burleson shares his story of leading a fellow prisoner to Christ in a Cozumel, Mexico jail. The story should encourage you in your faith, and it offers some insight into the risk of renting a vehicle in a foreign port of call while on a cruise. Saved from Hell in a jail cell in Cozumel


We ID! That’s a logo and a mantra at many convenience stores in our area, which is intended to tell minors they can’t buy tobacco or alcohol. Here’s a story from Fort Worth about a liquor store that allegedly sold vodka to an underage patron that ended very badly.

In the story, the owner of the store says that he recently made a mistake and didn’t ID an underage buyer that had been sent in a sting operation. But, he explains, “I was so tired and exhausted and I wasn’t even paying attention” before assuring the readers: “I check IDs, and if they’re too young, they aren’t getting anything.”

I don’t know what the protocol for ID-ing an alcohol buyer is supposed to be, but a couple days ago, at the Walmart in Odessa, two men clearly in their 60’s got carded before they could purchase two large cases of beer.

They were in line behind me, so I was already walking away when I heard the clerk ask both for identification: “Since you are together, I have to see ID from both of you,” she said. I didn’t think I heard her right since I was already walking away and they were both obviously old enough to be AARP members. But, I hesitated long enough to see both of them present their driver’s licenses. One actually gave me a sly grin as I turned to leave. I wanted to verify their ages at the door, but thought I better mind my own business.

If a manager from the east Odessa Walmart reads this, you can be sure that at least one checker does ID those buying alcohol . . .  even if they obviously aren’t minors.

I’m guessing this is part of the zero tolerance movement that sets certain rules that eliminate judgment on the part of those in authority. In this case, the clerk apparently doesn’t have to make any determination . . . just ask EVERYBODY for ID. Maybe it’s better this way for alcohol purchases, but I’m afraid zero tolerance policies generally dumb down society and end up hurting people along the way. Usually, the stories of zero tolerance lunacy come from elementary schools, but I think I’ve found one here, too.

Pastors and Affairs

Gary Lamb, a self-described (former) rock star pastor who committed adultery offers some interesting thoughts on pastors and affairs.

In his blog post about a year after his rock star life at Revolution Church Atlanta came tumbling down, he listed four things that contribute to marital infidelity among pastors.


Mr. Lamb elaborates on each of the four factors, and I think his thoughts are worthy of consideration.

I appreciate his candor and willingness to make himself vulnerable to further criticism in order to help other pastors avoid the sin of adultery. And I appreciate that he didn’t shift the blame for his sin onto others.