As a young boy, Polish-born Yisrael Kristal looked forward to turning 13 when he could celebrate his bar mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ritual. But that was 1916 and World War I crushed that hope. Little did he know that he would wait a century for that ceremony.
Kristal barely survived the next world war as a prisoner in Auschwitz. After WWII, he rebuilt his life in Israel, raising a family and opening a business. Earlier this year, he was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest man.
But the milestone event that marks a Jewish boy’s passage to adulthood eluded Kristal until this week when he finally celebrated his bar mitzvah, at the age of 113, surrounded by two children, nine grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren in Haifa, Israel.
As his family prepared for the celebration, Kristal’s daughter, Shulamith Kristal Kuperstoch told the BBC that the long-delayed ceremony would be a “corrective experience.”
Kristal, who was orphaned by the end of WWI, opened a successful candy store with an uncle in Lodz, Poland. But when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Kristal had to move his family to the Lodz ghetto where his two children died. By August 1944, he and wife were sent to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. She did not survive. By the time he was liberated, Kristal weighed all of 82 pounds, Kuperstoch told the New York Times.
After the war, Kristal returned to Lodz, married Holocaust survivor and, in 1950, emigrated to Haifa, Israel, where he established another successful confectioner’s business, operating it until 1970.
As for her father’s longevity, Kuperstoch credits prayer and his simple diet.
Upon his award by Guinness World Records in March, Kristal said: “I don’t know the secret for long life. 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 then 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 is lost.”