Sunday, November 24, 2013

Moving to

I just finished my PhD, so am now back to blogging. However, I am moving over to All of my Blogger posts have been moved there, too. Please come on over and help me rebuild this community at

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wharton, TX: The Teepee Motel

Built in 1942 and restored in 2006, the Teepee Motel is a "distinctive landmark motel from America's golden age of highway travel." It's a throwback to the days before the Interstate Highway System came to dominate travel across America; the days when the trip was as much a part of the vacation as the destination.

Certainly air travel and the Interstate Highway System have given us conven-ience, but in doing so, we've lost the experience of places like the Teepee Motel and roadside rest stops with BBQ grills, which, by the way, can still be found on many west Texas state highways. Though, I've never slowed down enough to see if people actually stop long enough to grill anything.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Qumran Cave 4

Qumran Cave 4 is without a doubt the most photographed of all the caves at Qumran. But I still like a couple photos I've taken. In this one, I like how the light is coming through the opening from the backside.

I like this one too, but you can't tell it's Cave 4 because of the close cropping.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Looking for Privacy?

If you are looking for privacy; you know, a kind of private prayer closet, the Western Wall probably isn't the most logical choice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Texas and Israel Bluebonnets

This time of year in central/north central Texas usually means Bluebonnets. It's common for the girls/women in a family to sit among the flowers to have their photos taken with the natural beauties. Following the Bluebonnet theme of the last two posts, here are my girls: one born in Texas, the other in Israel.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Texas Bluebonnets

Here's the flower that I thought was similar to the "Bluebonnet."

Texas Bluebonnet - Lupinus texensis

Friday, April 13, 2012

Israel Bluebonnet

I've always thought this flower looks so much like the Texas Bluebonnet, that I named it the Israel Bluebonnet. Turns out that it's from the same family as the Texas Bluebonnet.

Blue Lupin - Lupinus pilosus

Monday, April 09, 2012

Happy First Birthday, Zach!

Yesterday was Zach's first birthday. One of his gifts was a t-ball set that looked pretty interesting . . . to me. He, on the other hand, demonstrated something we hear all the time: "Kids are more interested in the packaging than the contents!"

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Texas Wisdom Says, . . .

. . . "trust but verify." So did President Ronald Reagan.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Rosebud, TX : Speed Trap!

I've got some friends that insist that Texas is ugly. We've gone back and forth on that point until I've simply given up; an anti-Texas bias (i.e. jealousy) is nearly impossible to overcome. We may not be able to agree that there is some beauty in the Lone Star State, but surely we can agree that Texas is, at least, interesting.

On a recent drive from Victoria to Arlington, we made our way through Rosebud, Texas, which is 38 miles south of Waco on Hwy 77. It's likely that you haven't heard of Rosebud (I hadn't), so I'll tell you that it has a (2009) population of 1,319 and a median household income of $26,635, and would correctly be considered "country."

My introduction to Rosebud was a "welcome" sign, placed by a disgruntled member of the community. I had already seen the "60 mph ahead" sign and had started to slow when my attention was grabbed by this: 

Even though I was already at 60 mph, that sign suggested (correctly) that I better slow it way down. So, I pressed the brake until I was creeping along at 30 mph. I finally arrived at the 60 mph sign, then the 45 mph sign, then I spotted him partially hiding behind a tree in a shade darkened alley, pointing a radar gun at me. Even though I was already creeping along at 30 mph in a 45 mph zone, I got a butterfly in my stomach. Probably because I was going so slow. I also had an internal smirk going. Probably because I felt like I beat him at his game - even though it was with the help of an anonymous Good Samaritan.

I immediately suggested that we should go back and get a picture of that warning sign (above), so I pulled into the car wash to make a u-turn and as I turned back to the street, I saw him coming. Not for me, I hoped, as I quickly reached for my camera so that I could take this shot:

A few cars behind me someone didn't heed the warning,  and they would soon realize the error of their way. After the traffic cleared, I made my way back to the warning sign, giggling all the way.

Thinking there must be an interesting story here, I stopped at a local business and asked about the sign. "Oh, a guy that lives here was always getting a ticket when he came into town, so he posted that sign." I asked if it was controversial in any way. "No, it's on private property, so there's nothing they can do. And there's one on both ends of town. It's just part of living here."

As we continued on through town, and before we reached the southbound sign, this is what we saw:

So, driver beware: There's a speed trap 38 miles south of Waco on Hwy 77 in Rosebud, Texas. I saw it, but thankfully avoided it. If Texas ain't pretty, it certainly is interesting.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dublin Dr. Pepper RIP

I was recently told that Dublin Dr. Pepper is no more. I didn't want to believe the news, and even insisted it must have happened recently because we had been there last year. As it turns out, we had been there in November 2010, not last year, and DubDP has closed. Big DP did it.

Pretty much all my life, I had heard Dallas area people praise Dublin Dr. Pepper, and even enjoyed - here and there - the fruit of their labor. If you don't know what makes Dublin Dr. Pepper different, it's the pure cane sugar they used to sweeten it.

I had also heard about the factory tours in Dublin, but never had been there. In a happy turn of events, we were driving through Dublin in November 2010 and made the good decision to stop for the $4.00 tour. Dublin is a small Texas town that maintains the best of small town America, and all that and more was presented in the factory tour. We learned facts and figures (amounts and dates, etc) of Dublin Dr. Pepper as we were led through the old bottler. Each tour concluded with each guest receiving a bottle of the sweet delight, so they could experience what all the fuss was about.

Perhaps it was the proper legal decision, but it's sad - to me - that Big DP essentially put DubDP out of business. Unfortunately, the founder of DubDP didn't have enough marketing foresight and limited himself to a distribution region that could be covered by a horse drawn wagon in a single day, a 44-mile radius around Dublin. The result of this limited distribution circle meant at least a few things that would eventually lead to BigDP essentially pulling the plug on DubDP:
  1. Only a small number of people would ever be able to drink DubDP.
  2. Among those small number of customers, were satisfied customers that came up with creative ways to market the drink outside the distribution circle.
  3. Too much DubDP showed up in BigDP's other distribution areas, which led to lawyers getting involved, which led to the end of DubDP as a label. BigDP will continue to produce sugar-sweetened DP for the DubDP distribution radius, but something tells me it will be different, and I mean more than just the label.
I haven't decided if I'll continue to drink a DP now and then when I eventually come off my sweets fast.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the Old Dublin Dr. Pepper Plant:
(See UPDATE below the photos.)

An anonymous commenter wrote:

"Dublin Dr Pepper is not closed. It is renamed as Dublin Bottling Works, and still doing business, except they no longer manufacture Dr Pepper products." (emphasis added)

While I appreciate a push for accuracy, I believe the bolded part says what I said: "RIP DubDP." The plant no longer bottles DP products. As a label the product is gone. I also mention in my post that "BigDP will continue to produce [cane] sugar-sweetened DP for the DubDP distribution radius, but something tells me it will be different, and I mean more than just the label." It also should be noted that Dublin DP will not appear on the bottles produced by BigDP.

The bottling plant itself continues to operate under a different name - Old Doc's Soda Shop - making different products, but Dublin DP is definitely no more. Here's the confirmation from Old Doc's website FAQ page:
Why is Dr Pepper no longer bottled in Dublin?
Dublin Bottling Works and Dr Pepper Snapple Group reached an agreement in January 2012 that transferred the bottling and distribution rights for Dr Pepper products to Dr Pepper Snapple Group. The same Dr Pepper made with pure cane sugar is still available for sale in Dublin, although Dublin Bottling Works no longer bottles Dr Pepper products.
For enthusiasts, I still recommend the tour - even though they don't bottle DubDp any longer. Perhaps that was the gist of the anonymous comment. My intention was to focus on the product. I apologize for any confusion.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Too Good to be True Rental Phones

Shortly before my recent trip to Israel, I was made aware of TalknSave, a company that rents phones to tourists for an unbelievable [to me] price of $5 per day. That $5 per day provides unlimited calls to/from phones in Israel, Canada and the United States.

Having lived as long as I did in Israel, I was skeptical of the offer as being too good to be true. However, rather than dismiss it altogether, I contacted the company and started an interesting "you gotta prove it" relationship with Elie Mamann, the company rep.

I explained my reluctance, which was based on typical Israeli marketing of large promises followed by zero customer service. Eli had heard the same reluctance by others, and he confided that he, too, was skeptical before he began working with this company. He assured me that the service was everything promised or he would not work there. Of course, that sounds like all the other "trust me" sales pitches I have heard in Israel. However, he said one thing that gave me enough confidence to give it a try: "I'm from North America, so I know what you have in mind regarding customer service."

He convinced me, ... sorta. I'm afraid I'll be eternally skeptical of salesmen from that region. But, I told Elie that I would give him a try ... and if the service is all he's made it out to be, I promised to be his biggest supporter. On the other hand, if the service was fluff, I would be a megaphone warning others to stay away.

The result of our group's use of TalknSave was total satisfaction. Elie provided all the personal service he promised, including meeting the group at the airport to deliver the phones at the bus. They also provide pre-paid mailer envelopes and a drop box at the airport for ease of return on the way out of the country.

We had 15-18 people rent the phones (a few different plans), and all were completely satisfied. We also had a few bring their home plans for various reasons. Some were happy with the home plan decision, even though they likely paid more. Those that brought Verizon service were sorely disappointed. Verizon agents may tell you that they provide service in Israel, but members of my group (and a previous one, too) found out that isn't true.

I know that some will wonder, "what's the use/need of having a mobile phone while touring Israel?" Here are some of the benefits:
  1. A growing number of tourists are on vacation, but still managing things back at the office because of the instant contact culture (calling, texting, surfing) that we are moving toward. These phones offer unlimited, instant contact at a very low price.
  2. Most tourists' families are unaware that when they hear news of rockets coming into Israel, those rockets aren't landing in every location. These phones offer unlimited calls that might be helpful in assuring folks back home that things are okay.
  3. In the case that something serious - like war, or the Arab Spring, or hospitalization - happens, these phones are an inexpensive way to be in touch with people back home. That might be helpful for the tourist and their families.
  4. As the group leader, my phone gave me an inexpensive way to be in touch with the guide, driver, and other people I needed to reach.
  5. Tourists aren't always where they are supposed to be. Those that had phones were easily located. 
Be aware that there are different plans available, including data and text plans. For those that want to take their own "Smart Phone," a SIM card is available in this plan. Also, groups (10 or more) get some perks that singles don't, so it's wise to order the service under a group name, which can be arranged by calling Elie prior to ordering.

If this recommendation interests you at all, whether you are a single or group traveler, please call Elie Mamann at 212-444-1503 or 1-800-941-4909. Tell him that Craig Dunning recommended you do so.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Israel's VAT Tax [fraud]

In Israel, one of the powerful sales techniques used among higher-end souvenir shops is telling the tourist they will receive a "VAT refund at the airport."

VAT stands for Value Added Tax, which currently is 16%. The VAT is what most of my readers would know as sales tax, and is added to every transaction that involves money.  However, certain services and items related to tourists are exempt from VAT, if the proper procedures are followed.

In the tourist trade, vendors who are appropriately recognized by the government offer a special receipt that allows the buyer to "get [their] VAT back" for each item they take out of the country. However, this only occurs if:
  1. a certain purchase threshold is met, and 
  2. if the shop is certified, and
  3. if the shop actually provides the appropriate form to the buyer, and
  4. the buyer shows the item at the VAT desk at the airport.
Up to this point, everything seems more or less reasonable. It's a hassle, and some buyers don't know the rules, or don't receive the proper form, but it's pretty nice to get 16% of the purchase price back.

The process is as follows:
  1. Shop in properly certified shops, which will have a green VAT REFUND logo.
  2. Purchase enough goods at the same time to meet the spending threshold. (I've heard different numbers, beginning at $100.)
  3. Get the proper form and keep the receipts.
  4. Do not pack the Duty Free item until it is presented to the VAT clerk located inside the departure hall, prior to the first security checkpoint. After the clerk verifies the item and stamps the form, the item may be packed in checked luggage or hand carried. Jewelry is verified only beyond passport control at the Change Place VAT desk in Duty Free. 
  5. After passing all security checks and passport control, present VAT refund forms at the Change Place VAT desk in the Duty Free hall.
  6. Receive a 16% rebate on your purchase(s) in dollars or shekels. I’ve been told that you can receive the refund via credit card also, but it takes up to three months.
  7. Fly home happy with your purchase(s) and the extra money in your pocket.
Sounds easy enough. And it is, as long as you follow the procedure exactly. However, there is one catch: At step 6, don't expect to get 16% as you were told by the sales clerk because there is a hefty commission of 20%, which brings the actual refund to 12.8%.

I’ve been told there is a sliding commission scale, depending on how much VAT has been paid. Unfortunately, the Change Place website provides no such information. So, BUYER BEWARE! If you're budget is dependent upon the VAT REFUND, you need to recalculate what you can afford to spend.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

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). 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

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.. . . "

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

DFW Airport from Above

Last May, I took this photo of DFW Airport as we flew past on our way to Love Field. It turned out better than I expected and I had intended to post it last year, but simply forgot. This week I was reminded of it because of a planned flight out of DFW later this week.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Refusing to Deliver New Testaments

Hebrew New Testament
Arutz 7 is reporting that "[d]ozens of mail deliverers" have refused "to deliver copies of the Christian 'New Testament' Bible" in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan because doing so is akin to delivering "missionary material." This, they assert, is against Jewish law, and possibly state law, too.

On the latter point, I can say that it is definitely NOT against the law to deliver missionary material. However, that doesn't mean that all the postal workers do their job. I am aware of certain occasions when "Messianic/Christian/Missionary" materials simply have not been distributed according to contract.

This particular situation is now circulating amongst the politicians and I'm guessing will likely go away quietly. (I'm not aware of the specifics of this mailing, so I'm shooting in the dark as to the likely outcome.) Over the years, due to mass mailings of "Messianic/Christian/Missionary" literature, parliament members have become exercised and have raised the idea of outlawing such mailings, or even evangelism, altogether. Each time an anti-missionary law has been floated, it has been left floating long enough for constituents to appreciate the politicians' efforts, then it goes away quietly.

Honestly, I get a cynical giggle from this story because I've seen soldiers, in an official capacity, teaching other soldiers from the New Testament. I wrote about that here.