Herman Rosenblat’s bar mitzvah was 63 years late and not a moment too soon.
A survivor of the Holocaust, Rosenblat turned thirteen in a Nazi concentration camp. He never had a bar mitzvah, never put on tefillin, until this month when Chabad of Mineola, NY, hosted a ceremony in his honor. A feel good moment on its own, the atmosphere at the Rosenblat bar mitzva turned electric when he told the story of how he met his wife. Then Rosenblat’s miraculous life edged a few more degrees toward full circle when the uplifting news of the Chabad of Mineola event went round the world.
In fact, Rosenblat was up in Mineola from his North Miami Beach home to visit his daughter and tell his story for a TV news segment featured on a February 14th broadcast. The producer, a friend of Chabad of Mineola, convinced Rabbi Anchelle Perl to ask Rosenblat to speak at the synagogue. During their conversation, Rabbi Perl discovered that Rosenblat, trying to rebuild his life after the war, had never had a bar mitzvah. “The Rebbe told us that if something good comes to mind, do it right away,” said Rabbi Perl. Within two days, Rabbi Perl arranged for a talit and pair of tefillin for Rosenblat, food, flowers, music, and he alerted his congregation and the media of the event. “People canceled dentist appointments to be here. Those who didn’t are sorry they missed out.”
The remorse comes from missing a story that has “Divine providence dripping from every stage,” said Rabbi Perl.
Rosenblat met his wife Roma in a concentration camp, when he was twelve and she was nine and hiding with Aryan papers. One night Rosenblat’s mother, who had been murdered by the Nazis, came to him in a dream and said, “Son, I am sending you an angel.” Days later a girl showed up on the other side of the fence. He asked her for some food. She took out an apple from her warm jacket, and threw it over the fence. “She was feeding my soul,” Rosenblat said.
Night after night, the girl returned with bread and apples, keeping Rosenblat alive for six, seven months. Then terrible news arrived. Rosenblat was to be transported to a death camp. He told the girl not to bother coming anymore. Years later, after escaping certain death – an amazing story unto itself – immigrating to America, enlisting in the U.S. army during the Korean War and being shipped off to Italy, Rosenblat fell in love. But his brothers said, “You left single, come home single.” For some reason, he listened. On a blind date at Coney Island, Rosenblat was making small talk, sharing his wartime experiences. His date spoke of a boy she fed at a concentration camp fence.
“Did the boy tell you one day not to come back?”
“That was me!” Shocked, exhilarated, certain, Rosenblat told the young lady. ”Now that I found you, I’m not going to ever let you go” and proposed marriage right there. The actual courtship lasted six months more. Herman and Roma Rosenblat married and went on to raise two children, Kenneth and Renee.
Rosenblat’s story, and seeing the couple together unbowed by their tragic history, “banished a certain darkness,” said Malka Kipnes of East Meadow, NY, who attended the event. “Sometimes you feel like you are buckling under, you are waiting for good things to happen, but after hearing Mr. Rosenblat’s story I thought to myself, ‘What am I complaining about?’”
After living a life that has been admixed with tragedy, triumph, loss and love, what did becoming a bar mitzvah add to Rosenblat’s life? “The reason I went for the bar mitzvah is I felt I am doing something back for my mother and my father that was important to them,” he said.
Before Rosenblat’s father died of typhus in a Nazi ghetto, he bade his son to remember two things: “Don’t hold a grudge in your heart. Tolerate everyone.” When Rosenblat turned from the Torah to face the media – CNN, the Associated Press and Long Island Newsday among them, he used the moment to convey his father’s message. “Do not hate,” if you do “you are hating yourself and you are miserable all your life.” The cameras and print media ate it up.
This is not Rosenblat’s first encounter with media. Oprah Winfrey hosted the couple on her show. Their story was printed in Chicken Soup for the Couple’s Soul. Atlantic Alliance pictures captured Rosenblat’s memoirs in a film “The Fence,” with Hugh Grant’s cousin playing young Herman, which has not yet been released.
The bar mitzvah was carried everywhere from Florida’s Sun Sentinel to Chicago’s NBC 5. Rosenblat remains philosophical about all the attention. “Because there is so much negativity in this world, if something good happens everyone wants to hear about it.”