Yisrael Kristal: Developing Inner Resilience
Episode #6 of the course Secrets to a long life: A study of the world’s oldest people by John Robin
Welcome back to our course on long life!
Yesterday we met Violet Brown and explored her longevity secret, which emphasized the importance of developing deep acceptance.
Today, we are taking a journey that is half historical and half geographical, as we meet our next supercentenarian.
Yisrael Kristal: 113 Years of Resilience
At the halfway point of our course, it’s worth appreciating the landscape a little.
So far, in our study of male supercentenarians, we have seen that only one man made it to 116. Two made it to 115.
Most supercentenarian men have made it to 111 at most:
• Only 5 men have made it to 114.
• Only 11 men made it to 113.
• Only 25 have made it to 112.
There are, however, nearly 200 supercentenarian men who are either verified or in the process of being verified.
The list for women looks quite different—but that’s for tomorrow!
For the remainder of our course, I won’t necessarily be highlighting those who have lived the longest. Rather, I will be exploring the most interesting stories, digging for clues to give you the best tips on the secrets to longevity.
Therefore, we are going to skip over all the men who made it to 114, and instead zero in on the most interesting of all the men who made it to 113 and 114. And with that, it’s time to meet Yisrael Kristal.
When Yisrael was born in 1903, Poland was still part of the Russian Empire. He went through adolescence while Europe was gripped in the turmoil of World War I. He recalls, when he was 11, throwing sweets at the car bearing the Emperor, Franz Joseph I of Austria—which was also his first time ever seeing a car.
Yisrael’s father was taken as a prisoner of war. Just before this, he also lost his mother. During this time, Yisrael would have celebrated his bar mitzvah when he turned 13, but with his mother’s death and his father’s captivity, it was the last thing in his family’s thoughts. His father did finally return but died of typhus shortly after.
Yisrael went to live with his uncles. As he grew up, he established himself as a successful confectioner. He continued to sell sweets when Germany invaded Poland, and even as ghettos sprung up around his hometown. In 1944, after his two children died in the ghetto, Yisrael and his wife were taken to Auschwitz.
After his wife was murdered, Yisrael worked under forced labor. When he was finally rescued, he weighed only 82 pounds.
He rebuilt his life as a confection worker, re-married in 1947, and started a new family. In 1950, with his family, he emigrated to newly-established Israel.
To make up for missing his bar mitzvah at 13, Yisrael celebrated it the day after his 113th birthday.
He lived for 329 more days, nearly making it to 114.
Yisrael’s Longevity Lesson
Despite all he went through, his daughter, Shula, said her father “had a lot of optimism, and he always saw only light and good in everything.”
Commenting further on his strength, she also said, “His view is that if times are hard, it could be worse. And when times are good—well, there’s no limit to good.”
And this is truly remarkable, considering what happened to him in his life. He lost everything in the Holocaust. He couldn’t even celebrate his bar mitzvah when he was 13. He had to rebuild more than once.
And somehow, despite all this, he still saw “light and good in everything.”
Yisrael went forward not just with determination to survive but to not let tragic life events he couldn’t control dictate how he led his life itself. He developed true inner resilience.
Driving forward to see a life of light and blessing will carry us much further than being weighed down by self-defeat. Let us learn from Yisrael’s unbreakable spirit. Let us draw from his courage. What horrific evils he faced, yet, not only did he survive, he maintained his belief in “light and good in everything.”
Whatever challenges you face in your day, your week, your month, and even within 2021, draw inspiration from Yisrael. Consider how you too can have the strength to rebuild, regroup, innovate and build a meaningful life, within your control. Learn to have the courage to face fear, disappointment, and uncertainty, and to say to them, “It could be worse.” And learn to have the inner conviction to know, always, when times are good, “There’s no limit to good.”
Will this help you live to 114? Who knows! But it will definitely add to your arsenal of stress-management skills to further boost your health potential—and when it comes to the battle with stress and its life-shortening effects, every bit counts!
Stay tuned for our next lesson, which will take us to the Netherlands!
How to Not Die by Michael Greger, MD
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