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Kristal: The Man Who Has Been Wearing Tefillin for 99 Years

Published on Tuesday February 9th, 2021

Sometimes I go to work with my wife. This time, it is to write an article that is produced once in every 112 years: a ceremony in which the Guinness Book of Records leaders designate the dean of humanity. This was the journalistic mission to which she accompanied me last Friday.

The ceremony was held in a small room of a modest hotel in Haifa. All the descendants and the family of Mr. Israel Kristal, who was 112 years, 5 months and 25 days old, met for the occasion.

Let's leave Kristal aside for now, and let's contemplate the memory of Yashoutaro Koida, the man thanks to whom all this took place. Koida was until recently the oldest man in the world. He died in Japan a few months ago, shortly before his 113th birthday. At his death, Kristal received this world title.

When I Arrived at the Hall, I Met Shula

She was a young and dynamic woman who introduced herself as his daughter. I thought I had not heard well. I was sure that she was one of his granddaughters, or great-granddaughters. If the hero of the party was 112 years old, his daughter must have been 80 or 90 years old.

I did not ask her her age, but she immediately explained: "My father lost his first wife, Feigy, in Auschwitz. Two of his children died during their stay in the Lodz ghetto. After the Holocaust, he weighed only 37 kilograms. But he rehabilitated and strengthened himself, then remarried my mother, Batsheva, also a survivor of the Holocaust. They settled in Israel, and my brother Chaim and me in Haifa. My father began this stage of his life at an advanced age, as a Holocaust survivor, who had lost a lot."

Marco, the Italian representative of the Guinness Book of Records, entered the room. He was dressed in a classy suit. He delivered a moving speech about the privilege of meeting a man who lived more than 100 years ago, born before the era of machines and television.

He was photographed holding a diploma with one hand, and putting his other hand on Israel's shoulder, a remarkable blue-eyed man sitting in his wheelchair, in the center of the filled room. When Marco blessed the big family and was surprised at the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, one of the grandchildren whispered to me, "He does not know how much bigger this tribe could have been, and how many people are absent today."

A few minutes after the official graduation, his daughter Shula spoke. Although the audience consisted only of Marco and a Guinness photographer, as well as dozens of family members and friends, her speech seemed to be directed at the whole world.

She had told me before that she had thought long and hard about the famous speech of Guidon Hausner at the beginning of the Eichmann trial, about the 6 million victims. Yes. For the fact that Mr. Kristal was the oldest man in the world did not seem to her to reflect the personal history of her father, but the victory of a whole nation. The best thing about this ceremony was hearing the background voices of his great-grandchildren who did not stopped "disturbing".

"Every day of Dad's life was a survival in itself," said Shula. He was born in 1903 in a small village in Poland. Orphaned of a mother at the age of seven, and three years later his father was conscripted into the Russian army, thus leaving him alone at the age of eleven.

Every day he woke up in an unknown world. At the end of the First World War, his father was able to return, but after a year he succumbed to typhus. My father moved to Lodz, the big city, and during the Holocaust, he wandered between different labor camps.

His life at that time was made up of hunger, beatings, suffering and illness. Also, in Israel, my father and mother lived in the period of Tena (restriction) and had difficulties integrating. Dad represents here today, the millions of people who did not have the merit to survive like him…and to move on!"

100 Years

Seven years ago, in 2009, Israel Kristal received an official letter from the Haifa municipality. It was a request to choose an elementary school for entry into Grade One.

The family called the municipality to find out what was going on, and it was explained to them that according to the computer, Israel would soon be 6 years old. They thought for a moment, then burst out laughing. Kristal was approaching the age of 106. But in the computer of the education department of the city of Haifa, we do not enter the 4 figures of the year of birth, but only 2.

Few people are over 100 years old. However, the date of birth of a man born in the year 1903 is written 03, which means that 6 years later, in the year "09", he is supposed to enter the framework of compulsory schooling. Fortunately, they did not come to give him his pre-school vaccines! There are still other funny stories about the long life of the oldest man in the world.

A few years ago, when he turned 100, he had to install a pacemaker. The doctors and his family were hesitating between two models of pacemakers: one easier to transplant and a life of 10 years, and the second, a life of 15 years, but the medical procedure was more complex. In view of his age, it was decided to implant the first model into the very old Kristal. And then, after 10 years, he showed up again at the hospital to change his pacemaker and he firmly requested: "Friends, no joke this time. I want to receive the second model!”

Respecting Others

In the treatise of Megillah, there is a series of Sages to whom this question is asked: "To what do you attribute your long life? Each of them revealed their secret ("In my life, I never earned respect by shaming my neighbor" or "In my life, no one preceded me at the Beit Hamidrash").

At an evening last week, I asked Israel's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, "For what merit do you think Israel has been granted longevity? Does he have a particular quality or life habit that justifies it? It is certainly not thanks to the "clean air" refineries of Haifa, the city in which he has lived for the past 66 years.”

'Firstly,' they answered in unison, one must speak of Emuna; faith. "He always raises a finger to the sky, and thanks G-d for each day."

The more I learn about his life, the more Israel appears to me as a member of the Mussar movement of the magnificent Yeshivot of Lithuania, whereas in reality, he never had the privilege of studying in Yeshiva. In his youth he learned in Talmud Torah, hence his memories of Torah and Mishnayot studies, but from an early age he worked to support himself. His life is a lesson of staying attached to Torah and Mitzvot.

Shula claimed that his personality was the main factor for his longevity. "He never complains. Never. He is always happy in all situations. Not only during the Holocaust, but even now. At his advanced age, he has difficulties, but my father accepts everything with love, good as well as bad. He accepts the situation as it is, and is satisfied. "

His granddaughter Liat Bashan (who claimed that he was beating her up when they would run against each other at the age of 102) also mentioned his Tefillin: "My grandfather recently said that he was not moved to be the oldest man in the world, but rather that he was the oldest Tefillin wearer in the world. When he was told that he was going to enter the Guinness Book of Records, his reaction was, "It's a joy in my old age." But Tefillin is something important for him. "

"Soon, at the age of 113, he will have worn tefillin for 100 full years. Even if he gets up in the afternoon, and he is weak and does not feel well, he insists on putting on his Tefillin."

His granddaughter Sigal Weill described his fixed daily schedule: "He gets up at 8 am, calls his daughter, asks her how she is doing, puts on tefillin, prays, and eats breakfast. Indeed, he gets up in the morning, puts on his suit, and of course a Kippah and a hat. Sometimes the grandchildren come to visit him and ask him, "Grandpa, where are you going? Is there a wedding?"

But he answers: "When a Jew gets up in the morning, he has to dress well!'' He still sits, with his carer from the Philippines, wearing a suit and a tie. Always.

Ofer, Liat's husband, added two more qualities: "First of all, everything is always in proportion. He is neither too happy nor too sad. Whether in moments of joy or sadness, he always has his feet on the ground. When Shula's husband, Menachem, died, we were scared to tell him. Finally, when he learned that his son-in-law had died, he said, "He had the privilege of starting a family, and the merit of being buried in Israel."

For him, each event is linked to another. He has the perception of a man of over 100 years. Another point: He never considered himself a victim, even during the Shoah where he always walked with his head up, he was not ashamed, he did not apologize, and he did not fear. This sense of composure characterized him in each of the situations he experienced.

He always said that each of his days in Auschwitz would fill a book, but it will be noted that he has always been a confident man."


Once the speeches were over, we began singing. After all the speeches, the photographs and the ceremonies, all the family of 112-year-old Israel Kristal, gathered around him to sing, to sing words stronger than all the speeches.

"Vezakeni Legadel Banim Uvnei Banim - give me the privilege of raising children and grandchildren", or "Mi Haish Hechafeitz Chaim, Ohev Yamim Lirot Tov - Who is the man who wants life, and who wants to enjoy his days to see the good?"

"Our grandfather is a symbol, they tell me. Do you think it's a coincidence that his name is Israel? "

The Torah-Box Team - © Torah-Box Account

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