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Mazel Tov to You and L'Chaim! (October 2016)

11/03/2016 10:40:32 AM


Can you believe it? The oldest man in the world is celebrating his Bar Mitzvah! Not only is this 113-year old Yisrael Kristal having his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, but he has made the Guinness Book of Records for being the oldest man. Moreover, Yisrael is a Holocaust survivor, and he lives in Israel! 

If you are wondering why he didn't he have any observance of his Bar Mitzvah at 13, the answer is that Yisrael Kristal experienced many tragedies in his young life.  He became of age during World War I.  His mother had already died when Yisrael was 10, and his father had been taken away, conscripted into the Russian army.

Although born in Zarnow, Poland, he and his family moved to Lodz in 1920. There he continued to work in the candy business owned by his family.  The Nazis conquered and during their reign of terror, Yisrael lost his two children. In 1944, he and his wife of 25 years were deported to Auschwitz. There she was murdered by the Nazis...

After the Shoah, Yisrael eventually remarried. In 1950, he and his wife and son moved to Haifa. There once again he worked as a confectioner.

Today, Yisrael not only has a son and daughter, but many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He has a message for us as we approach Rosh Hashana. Having experienced a long but terribly tragic life, Yisrael when was asked for his secret to longevity answered: “I don’t know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men than me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”

I am ever astounded by what these amazing survivors of the Shoah teach us.  We all need to focus on his teaching: “All that is left for us to do is to keep on working hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”

A colleague of mine, Rabbi Jeffrey Miller, shared a beautiful insight about another elder of our people, namely Abraham.  How at the age of 99, he answered the call to look forward in life to experience new challenges, new growth.  For it was at the age of 99 that Abraham established the covenant with Hashem through the mitzvah of the brit milah.  Imagine at 99!  It was at this time that he was told that he and Sarah would become parents in their old age!  Thus Abraham at 100 and Sarah at 90 were blessed with their child Isaac!

We are a given a window into Abraham's life when we witness how he, Sarah and his family served with so much energy the visiting strangers shortly after his brit. We see the compassion and strength Abraham exhibits when he becomes an advocate for saving the people of Sodom of Gomorrah, even arguing with Hasham on their behalf.  And, we see a man who would serve Hashem, not questioning the possible loss of his beloved son.

What a strong message from Yisrael Kristal, who has followed the model of Abraham.  Each stage of our life presents new vistas and new challenges.  Each Rosh Hashana we have the opportunity to not only look backward to mend our life, not only to correct our mistakes, but to move forward having learned from our errors, as well as our successes. Each Rosh Hashana is filled with the wonder, the awesomeness of the potential of what is yet to be.

With that in mind, Penny and I wish each of you, your families, and all of your loved ones a happy, healthy and blessed New Year!

L’shana Tova Tikatevu V’techatemu,

Rabbi Mitchell Kornspan

Sat, December 4 2021 30 Kislev 5782