The list of Israeli entries in the “Guinness World Records 2016” book is a good reflection of the complexity of life here. It includes inspiring, silly, sad and funny records. Alongside the oldest head of state (Shimon Peres, when he was 90) and the shortest hostage rescue operation (Entebbe, which included a 35-minute battle), Israel also boasts records for the largest dance class at a single venue (9,223 dancers, at Tel Aviv Port in 2010); the world’s heaviest lemon (5.265 kilograms – 11 pounds, 9.7 ounces); the most passengers on an aircraft (1,088, on an El Al flight during Operation Solomon in 1991); and the largest gathering of monkeytail beards (244 people in Tel Aviv, 2013).
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Now, a new and impressive record has just officially joined the list and is set to arouse extensive international interest: For the first time in Israel’s history, one of its citizens will hold the title of “Oldest Man in the World.” The title was awarded friday morning to Haifa resident Israel Kristal, who will be exactly 112.5 years old on March 15.
Haaretz contributed to the recognition of Kristal’s record after conducting a wide-ranging investigation following the death in January of the previous holder of the title – Yasutaro Koide of Japan, who died two months before he would have turned 113. Koide had held the record since last July.
Kristal, a confectioner by trade, was born in the village of Zarnow, Poland, on September 15, 1903. At 3 he started to study in a local heder and began to speak Hebrew. At 4 he learned Bible and at 6, Mishna. “My father would wake me at five in the morning to teach me,” he told Haaretz in a 2012 interview. “I didn’t want to get up so early, but I had to.”
In 1920, when he was 17, he moved to Lodz, where he started a family and established a candy factory. In 1940 he and his wife Chaja Feige and their two children were sent to the ghetto and in August 1944 he was deported to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he spent two months before being sent to other camps. His wife and his children did not survive the Holocaust. He did not want to elaborate on his history during the war. “One day in Auschwitz could fill two books,” he told Haaretz.
After the war he remained in Lodz for several years, re-established the candy factory and started a new family with his second wife, Batsheva. In 1950 they immigrated to Israel and settled in Haifa, where he continued to manufacture confectionary, including special candies, chocolate bottles filled with liqueur and wrapped in colorful foil, carob jelly, and candied orange peels. His family does not like to state the number of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren for fear of the “evil eye.”
In accordance with the Guinness World Record book rules, for a person’s age to be recognized it is necessary to have an official certificate attesting to his age that was issued during the first 20 years of his life. Thus, theoretically there could be a man who is older than Kristal somewhere in the world but an absence of sufficient documentation is denying him the title. One claimant to the title might be Rabbi Zakharia Barashi of Jerusalem, who according Interior Ministry records was born in 1900 in Kurdistan and therefore is 116 years old.
Kristal, however, who was born three years later, is the oldest man in the world who has provided Guinness with enough old documents that confirm his age. Among these were the list of deportees from Auschwitz in 1944, lists of inhabitants of the Lodz ghetto in the 1940s, his marriage certificate from 1928 and also the final document that was located: a 1918 registry of inhabitants of Lodz. Obtaining these documents took a lot of effort, resourcefulness and creativity. This was because they were written in various languages and were kept in small archives in different places in Poland, some of which are not accessible to the general public or entail bureaucratic and technical difficulties in order to view them.
The breakthrough was provided by the organization Jewish Records Indexing, Poland, which specializes in finding archival information about Polish Jewry. Its staff, headed by executive director Stanley Diamond, managed in recent months to get their hands on the documents that were required to complete the picture and to have Kristal recognized as the oldest man in the world. In fact, Kristal is also the oldest Holocaust survivor in the world but the record of which he is proudest doesn’t exist in the Guinness World Record Book: He is the most veteran living layer of phylacteries in the world. It has been nearly 100 years since he began doing that.
Though Kristal is the oldest man in the world, he is not the oldest person in the world. That title is borne by a woman, Susannah Mushatt Jones, who was born in 1899 and is now 116 years old. The oldest living person in history was Jeanne Louise Calment of France, who died in 1997 at the age of 122 years and 164 days.
And if Kristal aspires to beat the Guinness record for the oldest man who ever lived, he will have to overtake Jiroemon Kimura of Japan, who died three years ago at the age of 115 years and 253 days.
In the meantime, he is not excited by the international recognition he has won. “The joy of my old age,” he told his family in Yiddish upon being told of the report in Haaretz that he was a candidate for the title. And four years ago he told Haaretz: “It’s no great bargain” to reach such an advanced age. When asked if he had a formula for longevity he replied: “Every person has his own fate. It’s from heaven. There are no secrets.”
From the perspective of a man who has lived through more than an entire century and two world wars, he says that the world has become “worse.” He is especially adamant against “permissiveness,” as he calls it. “I don’t like the permissiveness here. Everything is permitted today,” he said. “Once young people didn’t have the chutzpah they have today. They had to think about a trade and earning a living. They were carpenters and tailors. Today everything is high-tech, easy things, without effort. It’s not the manual labor of the past. When we were kids, the parents said, ‘You’ll marry this person, not that one.’ Today the kids decide everything. Once parents had a say.”