Yisrael Kristal died Friday and was buried yesterday evening in Haifa. Before his death, he had the distinction of being the oldest living man in the world. He was accorded that title in 2014by Guiness World Records when with the help of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz he was able to prove his birthdate of September 15, 1903 in Zarnow, Poland. In 1920, as a 17 year old, he moved to Lodz, opened a candy factory, married and started a family. He made sweets in the Warsaw Ghetto until he and his family were sent to the camps. His wife and two children died at Auschwitz; he survived and immigrated to Israel in 1950 with a second wife and opened another candy factory, this time in Haifa.
When he was asked in an interview if there was a formula to his longevity, he replied, “Everyone has his own luck, it is from heaven. There are no secrets.” (Haaretz. August 13, 2017)
This statement is worth some pondering upon. The current cultural belief certainly doesn’t support this idea, that life is in a big part God-given-luck. In fact most people if surveyed might reveal that the biggest deterrents to a long life would be sugar consumption and stress. Yisrael, who operated candy factories for a good portion of a century was likely in the upper percentile of sugar consumers. As to stress, as a survivor of Auschwitz, Yisrael was exposed to more than his share.
Yisrael spoke little of his Holocaust experience, “Two books could be written about a single day there.” he is quoted as saying in a rare interview.
Is there a recipe for long life? Not according to Yisrael; Long life is “no great bargain….. in the camps there wasn’t always anything to eat. What they gave me I ate. I don’t live to eat. I don’t need too much. Anything that’s too much is no good. “ This from the man who for nearly a century worked making confections, chocolate bottles filled with liqueur wrapped in foil, jellies and candied orane peels.
Somehow we have come to equate diet not just with longevity but also freedom from cancer as if it were a clear one to one relationship. Given the nature of our practice, many of our patients have been careful and cautious eaters for decades. Some days it feels as if they are reading from the same script as they ask me, “I am a vegetarian and I eat only organic food. How can I have cancer?”
They don’t want to hear the real answer, that while a healthy diet is associated with a statistically significant inverse relationship with risk of getting cancer but the impact is no where close to the 100% cause and effect most people seem to assume. The decrease in risk is in percentage points. As far as choosing to eat organic foods over ‘standard’, there is no compelling evidence suggesting an inverse association between cancer and organic food consumption.
This is hard for many people to swallow. There is a mindset that suggests each time we eat something labeled healthy or pay a little extra for organic, we are earning protective karma points that will reward us with a multitude of cancer free years.
There are measurable benefits to eating well but these effects are mostly seen in population studies. Granted that many people feel better on a healthy diet but clearly a little taste of sugar from time to time isn’t the end of the world, at least wasn’t for Yisrael Kristal.
Guinness will review their records for the title of ‘Oldest Man in the World” and announce the new title holder soon. The oldest living person title is still held by Violet Brown, who is currently 117-years old. The longest living human being was Jeanne Calment, a French woman, who died at age 122.
I suppose I should start quoting Yisrael when people question their fate, “Everyone has his own luck, it is from heaven.”
זכרונו לברכה May his memory be blessed
עליו השלום peace be upon him