The world’s oldest living man, Yisrael Kristal, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Haifa, Israel, is one year older on the record books, which marked his 113th birthday on Sept. 15.

However, on 22 Elul, which corresponds this year to Sept. 25, Kristal will be celebrating his 113th Jewish birthday (considered in mystical Jewish tradition to be akin to an annual personal Rosh Hashanah) and the still rarer distinction of it being 100 years since he began wearing tefillin during daily prayers.

In an interview with Sichat Hashavua—a weekly circular published by Chabad in Israel—Kristal said that since his 13th birthday, he has wrapped tefillin every day, except for extreme circumstances during the two great wars.

As he stated: “Instead of being acclaimed as the world’s oldest man, I’d rather be known as the oldest and longest daily wearer of tefillin in the world.”

He was recognized as the world’s oldest man in March.

Kristal was born in Zarnow, Poland, on 22 Elul 5663 (Sept. 15, 1903). His mother passed away when he was 7 years old. His father was drafted into the Russian army during World War I and subsequently killed, leaving Yisrael on his own at the young age of 11. However, his father had provided him a solid traditional Jewish education, and that helped him remain a man of deep faith and religious commitment throughout his life.

His 13th Jewish birthday, ordinarily celebrated as a joyous milestone, passed without fanfare due to the war. Yet, like generations of Jewish men before him, he began wearing tefillin every weekday, with the exception of Shabbat and holidays.

One hundred years later, some 100 family members and friends will gather for a private belated bar mitzvah in which they will sing, dance and wish him a hearty “mazal tov.”

Rebuilding a Family

In 1920, Kristal moved to Lodz, Poland, to join the family confectionery business, where they made and sold candy and other sweets. He worked there for 20 years, becoming a master of the craft.

Kristal lost his wife and two children during World War II, as well as his other relatives. He survived Auschwitz, in addition to the Wustegiersdorf, Dornhau and Schotterwerk Nazi concentration camps. When he was rescued by Allied forces in May 1945, he weighed 37 kilos (81.4 pounds) and was on the brink of death.

Like generations of Jewish men before him, he began wearing tefillin every weekday, with the exception of Shabbat and holidays.

He left for Israel in 1950 with his second wife, Batsheva, also a survivor, and their baby son Hayim, settling in Haifa. They were soon blessed with another child, a daughter, Shulamit, and opened the Kristal Candy Factory in 1952 on Shivat Zion Street. It became increasingly successful over the years until his retirement in 1970.

Hayim and Shulamit have nine children between them—and their children have children—in a way rebuilding the family their parents had lost in Europe.

‘Everything Has a Reason’

In 2012 at the age of 109, Kristal was recognized as the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, his daughter, Shulamit Kuperstoch, said: “The Holocaust did not affect his beliefs. He is not an angry person; he is not someone who seeks an accounting. He believes everything has a reason in the world. He believes he was saved because that’s what God wanted.”

This year, when interviewed on the occasion of the Guinness World Records milestone and ceremony at their Haifa home, she reported that her father’s calm response to all the fuss over his being the oldest living man encapsulated his basic outlook on life:

“I didn’t create anything; I didn’t discover anything or reveal anything new in the world. Everything is from Heaven. The Almighty gives me life, and I simply live. It is not through my own strength or cleverness or any particular lifestyle. Everything is through the Creator of All. He has granted me long life, and I am grateful to Him for it.”

Based on a lengthier article by Yerachmiel Tilles, available from the author by email: editor@ascentofsafed.com