Visit the Dead Sea

Below is an interesting video about the Dead Sea from CBS Sunday Morning.

Join a Discipleship Travel LLC tour to Israel and experience the Dead Sea for yourself!

Yom HaShoah – Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day

In honor of  Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am re-posting this article.

Beniko Gihon #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 and 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).


iPhone BibleMap App

If you have an IPhone and want to link your Bible study with Google Maps, then you will be happy to know about the BibleMap App. Credo House Ministries has developed this fine tool and you can read more about it and see more pics at their blog.


How do I make falafel?

falafelFalafel has been called “Israel’s original fast food.” Many of our travelers experience falafel for the first time during their Israel tour. The reactions are mixed. Some simply refuse to try it because it is too different. Among those who try falafel, some don’t like the taste and some find it really tasty.

This post is primarily for those in the last category, though others may benefit, too.

Falafel is made from ground chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) and seasonings that is shaped into a ball or patty, then deep fried. In Israel, falafel is typically served in a pita bread with hummus, tehina, tomatoes, cabbage, and other interesting items.

Often, after arriving back home, our travelers want to try to recreate some of the foods they experienced on their trip and ask us how to make this or that item. Below is a recipe for falafel from Jewish Fusion:

Falafel Recipe Ingredients:

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, cooked for ½ hour and drained
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 thick slice rustic white bread,
crust removed.
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup of flour for dipping
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg
2 Tablespoons, chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons of fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground tumeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
Canola or vegetable oil for deep-frying
Pita breads, heated
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
Hummus, optional


Put the chickpeas in a 2-quart soup pot, add the water, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
Add the 2 teaspoons salt after 20 minutes of cooking.
Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid.
Grind the chickpeas through the coarse blade of a meat grinder or pulse in a food processor.
Add the bread, the 2 tablespoons flour, the baking soda, garlic, egg, and seasonings and mix well.
Add salt to taste.
Form into 1-inch balls, then flatten each slightly in your hand.
In a deep saucepan or a wok, heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees F.
Dip the falafel into flour and deep-fry in batches until golden.
Using a skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain.
Tuck into warm pita bread, along with about 2 tablespoons each chopped tomatoes and cucumber, and a generous drizzle of tahini dressing and some hummus, if using.

You may be interested to watch this video demo, which is part of Epicurious’ “Around the World in 80 Dishes” series.

Best wishes on this adventure, and happy eating!


Hummus: A new taste

HummusMany of our travelers experience a number of new tastes while in the Holy Land. Some they love; others, not so much.

“What is that?” is a common question that is asked while pointing to a plate of hummus (also spelled, houmous). In short, hummus is a thick paste or spread made from ground chickpeas (garbanzo beans) sesame seeds, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. It is most commonly eaten with pita bread, but can be served in other ways, too.

If you are one of our travelers who fell in love with hummus, or simply liked it enough to try it again at home, you have some options. First, you can likely find tubs of hummus in your grocer’s refrigerated foods section. Ask a stocker for help finding it. The larger your city, the more likely you are to find hummus at your grocery store. You can also try Halal (Muslim) food shops, depending on where you live.

Another option is to make it yourself. For those that want to put their kitchen skills to the test, here is a basic hummus recipe courtesy of Sar El:

Hummus (makes four or five servings)
2 1/2 cups of small chickpeas
1 scant teaspoon of baking soda or baking powder

6 heaping tablespoons of raw tahini
6 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of cumin
at least 3 1/2 cups of hot water

For the garnish:
olive oil
hot, whole cooked chickpeas
sweet paprika

Soak the chickpeas for 24 hours in a bowl of water with baking soda or baking powder. Replace the water after 12 hours but don’t add new baking soda or powder. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Transfer the chickpeas to a big pot; pour in water so that it reaches a level that is one and a half times the height of the chickpeas in the pot. Bring to a boil; skim off the foam that forms on the top. Lower the flame; cook on a very gentle boil for 3 hours. Confirm softness by crushing one chickpea between thumb and forefinger. Drain and reserve the cooking water to use later.

Traditionally the chickpeas are crushed using a mortar and pestle, but you can also grind them in a food processor or an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Grind or mash together chickpeas, raw tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt and cumin. Add the chickpeas’ cooking water 1 cup at a time, while grinding, until you obtain the desired consistency.

If not eaten immediately, the hummus will thicken within a brief time. Before serving, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with cumin and sweet paprika; most importantly, enjoy it!