By Oren Liebermann
PHILADELPHIA (CNN) — The world’s oldest man, Holocaust survivor Yisrael Kristal, celebrated his bar mitzvah this weekend — 100 years late.
Born in Poland in 1903, Kristal studied Hebrew and Jewish law as a youngster. But he missed his bar mitzvah — a Jewish coming-of-age ceremony celebrated when a boy turns 13 — because of World War I.
“This was a miracle that came true in front of our eyes,” said his daughter, Shulimath Kristal Kuperstoch, who organized the ceremony in northern Israel.
About 60 friends and family members attended the bar mitzvah on Saturday morning, Kuperstoch said.
A Devout Orthodox Jew, Kristal recited the Kaddish prayer, which praises God, and the Shehecheyanu, a prayer for celebrating special occasions. Following the bar mitzvah, attendants lobbed candy at Kristal, a festive tradition used to symbolize a sweet life. It is most commonly seen at bar mitzvahs for young men, but the supercentenarian loved it, his daughter said.
As a young man, Kristal married and had two children, who died in the Lodz ghetto during World War II. Later, he and his wife were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where his wife died.
He survived the Holocaust, and moved to Israel with his second wife in 1950.
Kristal was officially recognized as the world’s oldest man by Guinness World Records in March 2016.
During his bar mitzvah, Kuperstoch said he was quiet for much of the time, perhaps reflecting on the importance of the moment and remembering those who could not be there to celebrate with him.
“Holocaust survivors know how to welcome this moment better than anyone else,” she said.
The retired confectioner now has a large family, including grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
According to Guinness World Records, he has carried out the rites of his devout Orthodox faith “continuously and rigorously” for 100 years.
He has wrapped phylacteries (tefilin) “every morning for the last century, with the exception of the Holocaust and both world wars,” the organization wrote.
The tefilin is the practice of fixing Torah texts in small black boxes to the head and hand during prayers, following literally the commandment that calls for believers to bind excerpts of religious scriptures to their hands and their eyes.
When he was named the world’s oldest man, Kristal insisted, “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,” he told Guinness World Records.
“There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men then me who are no longer alive,” he said. “All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”
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