The world’s oldest man, Israel (Yisrael) Kristal, died last week in Israel shortly before his 114th(!) birthday. His life, despite being extremely difficult during certain periods, contains at least three important tips about Jewish happiness (simcha).
- Always See the Good in People
According to the Associated Press (AP), Israel was born in Poland and missed his bar mitzvah because of World War I. He was orphaned shortly after the war.
After the Nazis occupied Poland during World War II, Israel was sent to Auschwitz. His wife and two children did not survive the Holocaust. Israel weighed 81 pounds (37 kilograms) at the end of the war and was his large family’s sole survivor.
Did these experiences lead to a lifetime of bitterness? A permanent distrust of other people?
Israel later married a fellow Holocaust survivor and they moved to Israel in 1950, “where he built a new family and a successful confectionery business,” according to The Times of Israel.
Upon his death, how did his daughter describe him? Shula Kupershtuch said, “He always saw only light and good in everything.”
In Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot), Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai tells his disciples to “Go out and discern which is the good way to which a man should cling.” Rabbi Eliezer answers, “A good eye.”
Judaism advises us to judge people with a “good eye” by looking for their positive qualities and merits, instead of seeking out faults to criticize. Amazingly, Israel was able to maintain and exemplify this higher spiritual state, despite the traumatic experiences he had been through and the unprecedented evil he witnessed.
2. Find Meaning in Your Life
Israel found meaning in life and never succumbed to nihilism to cope with the trauma.
In his amazing book Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl (z’l) detailed his life philosophy. A man who like Israel suffered through the worst life has to offer realized:
Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning (page 121 in the paperback edition).
After Israel’s death, his grandson, Oren, described him by noting, “He was a very hard-working man, a lot of energy always running from one place to another doing something.”
But it wasn’t just at work that Israel found his purpose. He built a wonderful family with two children, grandchildren and nearly 30 great-grandchildren, according to media reports. Hitler’s goal was to annihilate the Jews. Survivors like Israel Kristal were living testaments to Hitler’s ultimate failure and evil.
3. It’s NEVER Too Late
As noted earlier, Israel missed his bar mitzvah because of events during World War I. An observant man who put on tefillin daily, Israel eventually decided to celebrate his bar mitzvah…100 years later!!! That’s right, he had a bar mitzvah at the age of 113.
The wonderful story, which was detailed in The Guardian, reminds us that it’s NEVER too late for us to grow spiritually as Jews. What spiritual milestone or practice did you miss that you still hope to achieve?
May the family and friends of this remarkable man be comforted by the mourners of Zion…