World

After a turbulent century, world’s oldest man is bar mitzvahed at last

This undated photo shows Israel Kristal, 113, the world's oldest man, holding a Torah. Kristal lived through both World Wars and survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Kristal family via Associated Press
This undated photo shows Israel Kristal, 113, the world's oldest man, holding a Torah. Kristal lived through both World Wars and survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Yisrael Kristal celebrated his bar mitzvah last weekend, reading the Torah and enjoying the company of his family, who danced, sang, and threw candies.

He was surrounded at the ceremony in southern Israel by his two surviving children, nine grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. He is 113, and he had to wait a century to mark the occasion.

Kristal, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz, was the only member of his extended family to survive the Holocaust.

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“My father is a religious man, and it was his dream his whole life to have a bar mitzvah,” his daughter Shulamith Kristal Kuperstoch said by telephone from her home in Haifa, Israel. “It was a miracle after everything that he has been through in his life. What else can you call it?”

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She said her father had smiled widely after partaking in the ritual, which marks the moment when a boy can participate fully in Jewish life and traditions, including being allowed to be called in religious ceremonies to read from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

Kristal was born Izrael Icek Krysztal in the village of Malenie, in what is now Poland, on Sept. 15, 1903. When he was 11, Kaiser Franz Joseph, emperor of Austria-Hungary, passed through his town. The boy threw sweets at the emperor, perhaps presaging Izrael’s career in the chocolate and candy business.

By his 13th birthday, World War I was raging and he missed his bar mitzvah, Kristal Kuperstoch said. His father was in the Russian army, and his mother had died three years earlier. By age 16, after his father had died of typhus, he was an orphan.

After the war, he opened a candy store in the Polish city of Lodz with his uncle and prospered. But after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Kristal, his wife and their two children were moved to the ghetto in Lodz, where the children died.

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In August 1944, he and his wife were sent to Auschwitz, where his wife was killed.

When Allied troops liberated the camps, Kristal weighed 82 pounds, Kristal Kuperstoch said. He returned to Lodz, remarried, and in 1950 he moved to Haifa with his second wife and their son. He rebuilt his life, again becoming a successful confectioner.

In March, at the age of 112 years and 178 days, he was declared the oldest man in the world by Guinness World Records.

Kristal Kuperstoch said her father had prayed every morning for the past 100 years. She attributed his longevity to “the above.”

“He believes in God,” she said. “He is a simple man, a wise and intelligent man. He believes in himself. He is someone who takes happiness in everything.”

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She said part of his secret for getting to age 113 was “eating to live rather than living to eat.” When he does eat, Kristal Kuperstoch added, he enjoys daily helpings of pickled herring and, as a younger man in his 80s, had a taste for wine and beer.

He lives in his own home with a housekeeper. He remains sharp and still likes speaking Yiddish and listening to Yiddish songs, Kristal Kuperstoch said.

“He wakes up early each morning, catches up on the news and eats a simple breakfast,” she said. “He is interested in politics and used to read the newspaper every day. Now I read it to him since his eyesight is failing.”

Kristal’s granddaughter Liat Bashan, a 32-year-old social worker, said that seeing her grandfather at his bar mitzvah ceremony, in a room spilling over with relatives and loved ones, had left her overcome with joy — and mindful of all those who perished in the Holocaust.

“All those people from one person,” she said. “Imagine how many rooms could be filled if 6 million had lived.”

She added: “Every time I see my grandfather, I want to make a blessing.”