Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Sept. 13-14: The Western Wall of the ancient Jewish temple packed with people praying and sometimes placing petitions to God on tiny scraps of paper that they insert between the wall’s huge stones.
In 1989 Thomas Boehm stood there and asked two questions: “Who are you, God? And who am I?” Black-clad orthodox Jews surrounded him, swaying and bobbing in prayer. Thomas sang a single line of Jewish prayer that he’d memorized in the synagogue as a child: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God. The Lord alone.” He sang it over and over, losing himself in the melody and rhythm.
Like a GPS fixing coordinates, he suddenly saw his life as a point in the broad sweep of history, part of an ancient yet living past. Boehm had arrived at the wall a 20-something kid from America. He left as a Jew. And five years later, in 1994, he became a Jewish Christian.
Boehm had recently finished graduate school and launched a thriving counseling practice, but he hungered for something more. Then he met some friends who boldly told him Jesus fulfilled all the Jewish hopes and promises. Boehm stayed up the entire night bombarding them with questions, after which they gave him a Bible—which “became food to my soul, and I was ravenous.” Three months later, he committed to following Jesus and took communion on Easter Sunday.
After professing faith, Boehm dreaded telling his dad, knowing it would be like “putting a dagger in his heart.” His dad, Frank Boehm, soon to become president of the Jewish Federation in Nashville, lamented, “We Jews have been put through hell because of Jesus Christ. We’ve been slaughtered, villainized, stigmatized, beaten, maimed, and desecrated in his name.”
Frank Boehm believed that personally. He associated Christianity with Nazi Germany; relatives had died in the Holocaust. Growing up, he had encountered anti-Semitic jibes ranging from accusations of deicide (“You killed Christ!”) to common bigotry (“I’m sorry, my parents won’t let me date a Jew.”) to menacing threats (“Hey, Hitler missed a few … should have killed you, too.”).
When asked recently whether he remembered the day his son first shared his faith, Frank Boehm stopped midstride: “Oh yes. There are a few moments in life where you remember every detail. … Tommy telling me his beliefs was one of those moments.” At the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta with family and friends, the senior Boehm had just ordered a bottle of champagne when Thomas blurted out, “Dad, I’ve become a believer.” Frank Boehm stared blankly at his son, without the faintest idea what he meant. Thomas clarified, “I’ve accepted Y’shua—Jesus—as my Savior.”
Frank Boehm was devastated and “felt a wall” come crashing down between them. A family member told Thomas, “I’ve only seen your dad cry three times—once when his mom died, once when his dad died, and the night you shared your faith.” Thomas recalls that his new believer zeal didn’t always foster productive dialogue. During one conversation, his dad slammed his hand down on the counter and yelled, “If you think I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in your Jesus, well that’s where your grandmother is and that’s where your grandfather is so I’ll be glad to go there!”
Moments like these kept Thomas praying. Neither father nor son gave up. Compelled to understand his son better, Frank became a student of biblical history. He learned that Jesus and all His early followers were Jewish. Over time, the father became impressed with his son’s integrity and compassion for others. Summing up his current opinion, 19 years in the making, Frank beamed with pride and declared: “A man couldn’t ask for a finer son.”
The dramatic quality of their reconciliation has recently taken a more public turn. Thomas takes time out from his doctoral work at Vanderbilt to travel with his father to speak in churches. Their mission: to galvanize support for Israel, and demonstrate the power and importance of personal reconciliation. As part of their presentation, Thomas robustly offers his testimony of faith. His dad hears it every time, no longer wincing, but with a hard-won appreciation of his son’s journey. Thankful and amazed, Thomas offers the following insight: “Those things we most fear losing, God most delights to redeem and restore.”
—Jeff Koch is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute’s midcareer training course
Still revved up
A recent National Public Radio story suggested that America’s love affair with the car has come to an end. It concluded with these words: “What we’re seeing now is a move of the car out of people’s hearts and into the garage—perhaps where they should have been all along.”
Maybe. But on Aug. 17, on a section of Woodward Avenue stretching from just north of Detroit to Pontiac, 16 miles away, more than a million car lovers and 40,000 classic vehicles converged for the 18th annual Woodward Dream Cruise.
Like a scene from the movie American Graffiti, souped-up ’50s-era Fords and Chevys, and later-model Camaros, Barracudas, Corvettes, and Thunderbirds rumbled down the highway. Model A’s, Packards, and MG Midgets mixed with other long-extinct car species: Buick Skylarks, Ford Edsels, and Dodge Coronets. Before traffic slowed to a crawl, muscle cars peeled out of gas stations.
Most of the stores lining Woodward closed for the weekend, and knowledgeable spectators set up picnic canopies and lawn chairs from which to view the passing parade of cars cruising the eight-lane road—four lanes in each direction with a boulevard down the middle. Gleaming vehicles in parking lots sat with open hoods, showing off their engines.
Free for both drivers and spectators, the Dream Cruise advertises itself as an alcohol-free family event, but it seems to have a special appeal to people who came of driving age in the ’50s and ’60s. Although Dream Cruise is largely nonpolitical, some messages did appear. One Galaxy 500 carried a sign saying, “I built it, not Obama.” A big truck displayed large pictures of aborted babies and a sign saying, “Register and Vote Pro-life. Prov. 24:11.” —Susan Olasky