World

Yisrael Kristal, oldest man in the world, prepares to celebrate bar mitzvah he missed as a boy

It's a celebration that usually happens when a Jewish boy turns 13, but Yisrael Kristal never had a chance to have a bar mitzvah when he turned that age in Poland during the First World War, so he's having one 100 years later.

Kristal turned 113 this month and will be participating in a ceremony usually held at age 13

Yisrael Kristal is seen at his home in the Israeli city of Haifa on Jan. 21, 2016. Kristal was born in Poland in 1903 and, after the Second World War, moved to Israel, where he built a confectionary business. (Shula Kuperstoch/AFP/Getty Images)

The oldest man in the world has just celebrated another birthday. Yisrael Kristal, officially recognized by the Guinness World Records book in March, turned 113 this month at his home in Haifa, Israel.​

Kristal was born in a small Polish village in 1903 before cars were common on the road or radios were in people's homes.

He remembers the first car he saw as a boy. It belonged to Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. Kristal and other boys threw sweets at this horseless carriage, which seemed to them like an apparition. (The emperor died in 1916, so Kristal has well and truly outlived him.)

Yisrael Kristal is seen here in 1947, at age 44. (Family photo)

Now, Kristal is about to experience another milestone. His family will celebrate his bar mitzvah, the ceremony marking maturity for Jewish boys, which usually occurs when they turn 13.

Kristal didn't have a bar mitzvah when he turned 13 during the First World War.

His mother died when he was seven years old. Four years later, when the war began, his father was press-ganged into the Russian army and never returned. The relatives who took Kristal in didn't hold a bar mitzvah for him in 1916, so his descendants are going to do it now, 100 years later.

"My father told my son not to take his bar mitzvah for granted, saying that not everyone was lucky enough to have one," said Kristal's daughter, Shula Kuperstoch. "He said the same thing to his great grandsons when they had their bar mitzvahs, so it obviously affected him."

'It's a privilege to be his daughter'

Kuperstoch is insisting on a modest affair. No media. No strangers.

"Israel's president asked to attend, and I said no. It would only stress my father, and he's my primary concern."

She is protective because she and her father are so close.

Other people boast about their children or grandchildren. I boast about my father.- Shula Kuperstoch, daughter of Yisrael Kristal

"It's a privilege to be his daughter," Kuperstoch said. "I share things with him and tell everyone about him. Other people boast about their children or grandchildren. I boast about my father."

Perhaps most remarkable is that the oldest man alive today is a Holocaust survivor.

"It is staggering," said Kuperstoch. "We tend to think that the more we look after ourselves and rest and avoid stress, the longer we will live, but no, this man worked all his life, and it was hard physical work, and he endured so much.

"He lost his first wife and their two children in the Holocaust. He lost his mother when he was young. He himself was in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. And yet here he is."

Confectioner's skill kept him alive in Holocaust

In the 1920s, Kristal moved to the Polish city of Lodz. He married Chaja Frucht and trained as a confectioner. He loved his job and had a talent for it, something that even the Nazis appreciated.

Kristal says his skill as a sweet maker kept him alive during the Second World War. German soldiers liked his candies and commissioned them from Kristal, who was by then living in the Jewish ghetto in Lodz.

Marco Frigatti, head of records for Guinness World Records, right, poses with Yisrael Kristal, second right, as he presents him with a certificate for being the oldest living man, in Haifa, Israel, in March. Kristal is seen with some of his family members, from left to right, grandchildren Nevo and Omer, son Heim Kristal and daughter Shula Kuperstoch. (Dvir Rosen/Guinness World Records/Associated Press)

The illnesses rampant in the ghetto claimed the lives of their two boys, but Kristal and his wife were still alive in late 1944 when the Nazis emptied the ghetto and sent the Jews of Lodz to Auschwitz.

His wife was killed soon after arrival. Kristal was put to work.

"My father was strong and not emaciated as he hadn't been starved in the ghetto," said Kuperstoch. "Still, the terrible conditions in the concentration camps meant that by the end of the war in April 1945, he weighed only 37 kilos."

After a long rehabilitation, Kristal returned to Lodz and found he was the only member of his extended family left alive. When he went to a tailor to buy new clothes, he met Batsheva Judah, who had also lost her entire family. Three days later, they married.

"They were entirely alone in the world. So, why should they remain alone?" Kuperstoch said. "They built a wonderful life together, which lasted for more than four decades, till my mother's death."

'Rebuild what was lost'

The Kristals came to Israel in 1950. He set up as a confectioner, even though sugar was scarce.

"He founded a successful business, through hard work and also because it was his passion," Kuperstoch said. "When there was no sugar, he would pick carob off trees and distill sugar that way."

It's been a life-long passion. When he turned 100, a big party was held in his honour, and Kristal made a package of candies for each guest.​

Kristal has a standard answer when asked the secret of his long life: He says he can't tell you.

 There have been smarter, stronger and better looking men than me who are no longer alive.- Yisrael Kristal, 113

"I don't know the secret," Kristal said in a statement at the time of his entry into the Guinness World Records book. "I believe that everything is determined from above, and we shall never know the reasons why. 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 on working as hard as we can and rebuild what was lost."

His daughter suggests his moderation and modesty are part of the reason for his long life.

"He never eats to excess," she said. "I've never seen him eat till he's bursting. He always eats slowly and not too much."

The other factor is his sense of humour.

"Maybe that's his secret. His sense of humour. His optimism," she said. "He's always hopeful and sees the glass half full. He sees the good and gives thanks for what he has.

"Every day, he asks for one good day. He wakes up, thanks God for yesterday and asks for one more good day. He doesn't have huge ambitions, but he slowly collected many days, one by one."