Yisrael Kristal of Haifa, age 112, may now be the oldest living man in the world, after a 112-year-old Japanese man died earlier this week. When his family told him he was up for the honor, he responded in Yiddish, “The joy of my old age.”
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His grandson Oren received an email this week from the Gerontology Research Group, an international body that verifies and tracks people who are at least 110 years old and sends its list to the Guinness World Records organization. The email informed him that Yasutaro Koide of Japan died this week, just two months short of his 113th birthday, and that Kristal was therefore a candidate for the title of the world’s oldest man.
Kristal turned 112 on September 15. According to the organization’s data, there is no living man who can document that he is older than Kristal. But Kristal faces a bureaucratic hurdle before he can be officially certified as the oldest living man.
The research group’s regulations require that he present an official certificate attesting to his age that was issued during the first 20 years of his life. However, the earliest official document attesting to Kristal’s age is his first marriage license issued in Poland 87 years ago, when he was 25. The organization is trying to determine whether it can be a little flexible in this matter and declare him the world’s oldest man in any case.
The current oldest living person is an American woman, 116-year-old Susannah Mushatt Jones of Brooklyn, New York. The oldest documented person ever, Jeanne Louise Calment of France, died aged 122 years and 164 days in August 1997. The oldest man who ever lived, Jiroemon Kimora of Japan, reached the age of 116 years and 54 days before dying in June 2013.
Kristal was born in the town of Zarnow in Poland. At three he started to learn in a local heder and began to speak Hebrew. At four he learned Bible and at six, 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. I couldn’t say no. We were afraid of my father.”
When World War I broke out in 1914, he saw the Kaiser Franz Joseph in person. In 1920, when he was 17, he moved to Lodz to work in the family confections business. “It was hard physical work. I schlepped 25-kilo bags of sugar,” he recalled. He continued to make sweets in the ghetto when it was established in 1940. Four years later he was sent to Auschwitz, where he lost his wife.
He moved to Haifa in 1950 with his second wife and their son, and continued to make confections, 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.”
Before he died, Japan’s Koide said that his secret for longevity was “Not to work too hard, and to be happy.” Kristal isn’t offering a recipe for long life. “It’s no great bargain. Everyone has their own good fortune. It’s from heaven. There are no secrets,” he told Haaretz in 2012. Asked if perhaps he had reached an advanced age due to a special diet, he said, “In the camps there wasn’t always anything to eat. What they gave me, I ate. I eat to live; I don’t live to eat. I don’t need too much. Anything that’s too much is no good.”
He thinks the world has deteriorated in the past 112 years. “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 profession 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.”
Since the publication of Kristal's story, Haaretz has been inundated with phone calls and emails from across the globe from people trying to help locate documents to prove his age. Guinness World Records investigators are now examining Polish archives records, previously unknown to the family, that were found by such supporters.