According to Jewish law, boys come of age at 13. This opportunity is marked with the Bar Mitzvah ritual. Yet Yisrael Kristal had to wait a century to celebrate his. At 113, he is now the oldest man in the world. But by the time he turned 13, Mr. Kristal had lost his father to typhus after returning from the battlefront in First World War. His mother had died earlier.
By necessity, anybody who has lived for longer than a century has seen a lot. But Yisrael Kristal’s life reads like the Book of Job. For he saw the worst history had to offer. Mr. Kristal’s first wife and children were martyred at Auschwitz. When he came out, he was a walking skeleton. One night as the Holocaust was wiping away six million of his kin, Mr. Kristal walked into a tent to take shelter alongside nine other people. And when he woke up the following morning everybody else inside the tent had died in their sleep.
He jokes that he is not giving away the secret of longevity. If he did, he says, “it would no longer be a secret.” But his daughter offers a few tips: he only indulges in simple pleasures, he eats in moderation, and takes life in stride. He was born shortly before the Wright brothers took to the air in North Carolina, marking the birth of aviation. Moreover, several empires rose and died in the course of his life, including the one that martyred his family and nation. And yet Mr. Kristal accepts life as a daily gift, a mystery he cannot unravel. Maybe we are all the better off for it. Oh, and one more thing. Mr. Kristal made his life making sweets, the dream of every child. Perhaps he has remained one, in the purest and most youthful sense of the word.