Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

The Invincibility of the Jewish Spirit

Israel Crystal is the oldest man in the world. He is also a Holocaust survivor, and lives in the Israeli coastal city of Haifa. When Mr. Crystal was 13 years old, World War One was raging all over Europe, and his father was forcibly conscripted to the Russian Army. Soon thereafter, Israel’s father was killed, and Israel had to take it upon himself to support his widowed mother and his siblings, and so he never got to celebrate his own bar mitzvah.

In his twenties, Israel married, and was blessed with two children. But then came World War Two, and Israel and his family were confined to the ghetto, and later on deported to Auschwitz. Israel survived Auschwitz. His wife and children did not. After the war, Israel met and married a fellow survivor. His new wife also lost her entire family in the Holocaust, and the two of them decided to say a resounding yes to life, and to Jewish continuity.

In 1950, they made Aliyah, and settled in Haifa. Today Israel Crystal is blessed with more than a dozen grandchildren and great grandchildren. Israel is an Orthodox Jew. He proudly wears a large kippah, puts on tefilin every day, keeps kosher, and observes Shabbat.

Israel is also a proud member of his neighborhood synagogue in Haifa. And bezrat HaShem, next Shabbat, Israel will ascend to the Torah in his synagogue, and finally celebrate his bar mitzvah, one hundred years after he turned thirteen. And in this context, I only have one word for you dear friends: Mashala!

Orphaned in his teens, emaciated and de-humanized in the inferno of Auschwitz in his adulthood, having lost his entire family, Israel Crystal personifies the undying and perpetual spirit of the Jewish people. He also exemplifies the verse which we will be reading two Shabbats from now, a day before Rosh Hashanah:

“Behold, I have given before you today life and goodness, and death and evil…And you shall choose life, so that you may live, you and your descendants after you (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19).”

In the blessings which we recite after the reading of the haftarah every Shabbat, we find the words: “For you [G-d Almighty] promised that the candle shall never be extinguished”, that candle being the eternal light of the Davidic regal dynasty, of Torah, and of the Jewish people’s perpetual existence on earth, as the emblems of the Shechinah (Divine presence) in the world.

Every morning we read from the prayer book the following words: “Ashreynu, ma tov helkenu, ooma na’eem goraleynu”, which means: “How spiritually privileged we are, how pleasant is our portion, and how exquisite is our destiny.”

Our Temple family embraces and kisses this Shabbat the beloved, esteemed and honorable Saul Mathalon, who Baruch HaShem celebrated the 80th anniversary of his bar mitzvah earlier this week. We also take this opportunity to express our love, respect and appreciation to the honorable Hy Arnesty who also celebrated earlier this year the 80th anniversary of his bar mitzvah, and to the honorable, beloved and esteemed Jebb Levy, for having celebrated the 77th anniversary of his bar mitzvah, also earlier this year.

To all four of them: to Israel Crystal, Saul Mathalon, Hy Arnesty and Jebb Levy, we wish them all  – long, healthy, sacred and joyous days, replete with Torah and mitzvoth, and we bless them with the concluding verse of Psalm 91, in which the Almighty reiterated twice His pledge to his followers: “I shall bless them with old age, and they shall behold of My salvation. I shall bless them with old age, and they shall behold of My salvation.”

Shabbat Shalom, with love, health and peace to all of us,

Rabbi Sessler





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