A few days before Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Nissim Semu closed the circle and held his bar mitzvah ceremony in front of his children, grandchildren, and dozens of members of the senior center in the central Israeli city of Yehud.
It was a bar mitzvah celebration for all intents and purposes: candies ready to toss, a Torah scroll and lots and lots of balloons. Only a small detail testified that this is not a standard celebration: bar mitzvah “boy”, Nissim Semu, is almost 75 years late. Now at the age of 87 he is celebrating.. “The best gift I have received is to be surrounded by my family and friends for the day,” said Semu.
Semu attributes the reasons for the celebration of the late bar mitzvah to the difficult circumstances he found himself in when, at the age of 13, he lived in Israel, which fought for its existence in the days before the establishment of the state and the war of liberation.
Semu immigrated to Israel as a war refugee four years earlier in unconventional living conditions as only that war could have created.
“My father, Moshe, peace be upon him, escaped from a labor camp in Bulgaria and joined the partisans who fought the Nazis,” Semu recounted. “My father, who spoke several languages and looked local, would sneak into local taverns, drink beer and impersonate a Nazi. He infiltrated a pro-Nazi group and managed to gather valuable pieces of information without being suspected.”
After acting on certain information gathered and saving the lives of local leaders, anti-Nazi Bulgarians offered him a senior position in the local government. But hat did not interest Semu’s father. “He was an ardent Zionist and asked to be allowed to immigrate to Israel”.
Moshe Semu took his wife and two children and managed to immigrate to Israel. In Israel they settled in Rishon Lezion and Nissim joined the army a few years later where he also met his wife.
In the mid-1950s he moved to the city of Yehud and opened his garage ‘Garage Oz’ a decade later. Semu ran the garage until the 1990s when he was forced to close when he became ill.
Yitzhak Rosenberg, chairman of the Association for Senior Citizen of Yehud, who is himself a Holocaust survivor, says that, following World War II, about a million Jewish children who survived the Holocaust could not celebrate their bar mitzvah.
During the ceremony organized by the Day Center for the Elderly in collaboration with Rabbi Shimon Wiener of Chabad Yehud, a letter was read from Semu’s granddaughter, Noa, who lives in New York.
“Grandpa, when I heard that you were going to celebrate a bar mitzvah, I was not surprised at all. I did not know you as a child or as a teenager but I have a feeling that, despite a few white hairs, you haven’t changed at all… I hope you stay ‘Peter Pan’ forever.”