Yisrael Kristal, at 113 years of age, is not only celebrating a birthday but also a Jewish rite of passage that comes 100 years late. Daughter Shulimath Kristal Kuperstoch expressed her joy, saying “We will bless him, we will dance with him, we will be happy.” The celebration of Kristal’s bar mitzvah – the age-old Jewish ritual that marks a boy’s transition to manhood – will be held in Israel, where Kristal will be joined by 100 family members who are coming from overseas.
Kristal was born on September 15, 1903 in Zarnow, Poland. It was in 1916 that Kristal would have celebrated his transformation into Jewish manhood. But the First World War intervened in his native Poland, delaying the essential ceremony. His father was serving in the Russian army, and his mother had died. But it did not stop him from taking on the duties and responsibilities of manhood. Kristal moved to Lodz in 1920 to work in his family’s candy business. He married at the age of 25 and continued to operate the family business.
In 1936, disaster struck in the form of the armies of National Socialist Germany that invaded and brought death and destruction to Poland. During that time, two of his children died in the Lodz ghetto where Jews were forced to live. He and his first wife were deported to the Auschwitz death camp, where she died in 1944 as did 1.1 million other Jews. Kristal mourned but survived. After the war, he and his new wife joined other Jewish refugees who sought ‘Aliyah’ – the long-sought return to land of Israel. Kristal, along with his wife and baby son, settled in the port city of Haifa in the modern state of Israel.
Kristal continued to operate as a confectioner in Israel and founded a family with his wife, daughter, and son. It now numbers many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In March of this year, when Yasutaro Koide of Japan died, Kristal gained the distinction of becoming the world’s oldest man. Guinness records officials at first rejected his marriage license, among his scant bits of evidence, as proof of his age. Ultimately, a document preserved in Polish archives verified Kristal’s claim that he was a resident of Lodz in 1918 and that he was 15 years old at the time.
Kristal could offer no special recipes or secrets to explain his triumph over sorrow and adversity or for his longevity. In witness to his Jewish faith, Kristal said, “I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why.” Kristal added, “There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men than me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”