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Bar mitzvah at 76 culminates concentration camp love story

MINEOLA, N.Y. -- In the eyes of Jewish law, 76-year-old Herman Rosenblat has finally become a man.

The Holocaust survivor and his wife -- who met as children in a concentration camp -- were honored at his bar mitzvah Thursday at the Beth Shalom Chabad synagogue.

''We live in a time where we need hope and a positive outlook in life, and Herman's story reminds us that goodness will always overcome badness, and light will overcome darkness," Rabbi Anchelle Perl said after the service.

''When you listen to the story of Herman, he was always bar mitzvahed inside and today just brought it out."

Herman and Roma Rosenblat, now of North Miami Beach, Fla., and formerly of Queens, actually met as children -- he as a 12-year-old in a Nazi concentration camp and she as a 9-year-old who for months tossed apples and bread across a fence to help that little boy survive.

One day, he was transferred to another camp and thought he had seen the last of his petite benefactor.

Fourteen years later, Rosenblat -- now living in New York -- was cajoled into joining a buddy on a blind date. The nervous couple spoke of their mutual backgrounds as Polish emigres. The conversation eventually turned to his childhood in a concentration camp, and Roma volunteered that she had lived near a camp where she would visit a young boy everyday and sneak him food across the fence.

''That was me!" Rosenblat said he exclaimed. ''Now that I found you, I'm not going to ever let you go" and proposed marriage on the spot.

Her initial response? ''She says, 'You're crazy. We just met.' "

Six months later, they were married. They went on to raise two children, a son, Kenneth and a daughter, Renee.

''I'm very happy, I'm very proud of him," Roma Rosenblat said of her husband's bar mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage into manhood that usually happens when a boy turns 13.

Herman Rosenblat explained that after missing his bar mitzvah while being held by the Nazis, he simply got on with living life after his release, raising a family, and never got around to it.

When the rabbi learned of the Rosenblats' love story from a mutual friend and television news producer who had featured the couple in a Valentine's Day feature last week, he contacted Herman Rosenblat.

''I said, 'Let's make a bar mitzvah,' " Perl recalled. ''His whole story is about how the hand of God brought him and his Roma together after many years and I felt the hand of God continued with him now and we should bring him this bar mitzvah."

Speaking to a group of about 25 congregants, Rosenblat testified about the horrors he survived at the hands of the Nazis, noting he was tattooed with the number 94,983.

''I told my brother, 'Don't call me Herman no more. Call me 94,983,' " he recalled.

He remembered being so cold that, ''I don't remember summer. All I remember is winters."

He spoke how his brothers each gave him a quarter of their daily allotment of one slice of bread because ''I was a growing boy."

''That's love," he said. ''When all you have to eat is one slice of bread and you break off a quarter for someone else? That's love."

''His life story and his bar mitzvah today is giving us hope that ultimately the destroyers won't have the last say," Rabbi Perl said. ''Good people of all faiths will overcome."

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