Important Lessons From the World’s Oldest Man — A Holocaust Survivor
As reported by Israel Hayom last week, the oldest man in the world, 112-year-old Israel Kristal, is also a Holocaust survivor.
According to Guinness World Records, Kristal was born in 1903 to an Orthodox Jewish family near the town of Zarnow in Poland. He was orphaned as a teenager and moved to Lodz to work in the family confectionery business in 1920. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, he was confined to the ghetto and was later sent to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. His first wife, Feige, and their two children were killed in the Holocaust.
Kristal survived World War II weighing only 37 kilograms (82 pounds) — the only survivor from his entire large family. He moved to Israel in 1950 with his second wife, Batsheva, also a Holocaust survivor, and their son. He and his wife had a daughter and two more sons, one of whom died as an infant. Kristal now has grandchildren and great-grandchildren all over Israel.
“There have been smarter, stronger and better looking men than 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. I don’t know the secret for long life,” Guinness quoted Kristal as saying. “I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why.”
Kristal means “crystal,” but there is nothing fragile about this man, who has lived through and overcome traumas that are almost too monstrous to fathom, even after the war, when he again lost a child. He has accepted the fact that he will never know why he had to live through the vile sadism of the Nazi concentration camps or why he lost his entire family. He lived through it and he reinvented himself, building his life anew. His daughter, Shula Kuperstoch, said her father’s faith and optimism have helped him live into old age.
I could not help but wonder how a man of such immense stature would respond to the “challenges” millennials complain about these days, particularly on US college campuses, but also increasingly in Europe. It would be interesting to see how the two generations differ.
Many students on campus claim a need for “safe spaces” free of “microaggressions” and demand “trigger warnings” so that they can take timely refuge from anything that they disagree with, feel uncomfortable with or might be “hurt” by. The consequence has been that across US campuses, everything from Halloween costumes and tequila parties to the presence of Israeli SodaStream machines has been viewed as a violation of “safe spaces” or deemed “microaggression.”
“I think it is neither anti-Israel nor antisemitic to take a stand against the occupation,” Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash, a member of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, said in December 2014, referring to SodaStream machines, which, at the time, were manufactured in Judea and Samaria. “These machines can be seen as a microaggression to Palestinian students and their families and like the university doesn’t care about Palestinian human rights.” The machines were promptly removed from the dining halls of the prestigious Ivy League university, but were later restored.
I think the world’s oldest man would laugh at such nonsense, or “shtuyot” as I imagine he would call it, or perhaps even more likely, simply not understand the problem. I was not born over 100 years ago; I went to university in recent human memory and even I don’t understand it.
Well, fortunately, others have tried to understand it. “I don’t think this is for us to say, ‘Oh, just toughen up,'” a Harvard law professor, who asked not to be named for fear of a backlash, told the British Telegraph in November 2015. It is interesting that this Harvard professor was no hero himself, hiding his identity.
“I think it’s for us to figure out what we are talking about here,” said the anonymous professor. “There are real reasons why people in college and university today would feel anxious. This is a generation whose childhoods were transformed by 9/11; this is a generation whose adulthoods were transformed by the economic crisis; this is the generation for whom the unpaid internship was invented. We live in a security-saturated era, and so it doesn’t surprise me that they would speak in the language of security, which they translate as safety.”
I think Israel Kristal, if he could be brought to care about the petty, yet extremely privileged, inanities of millennial Ivy League college life, would laugh at the notion of a generation being traumatized by the things that the unnamed professor mentions — especially the “invention” of the “unpaid internship.”
I also think that he would consider the pursuit of a college education an extreme privilege that was not granted him nor so many of his contemporaries, who were cut off or cut down in their childhood or early youth and never had such a chance. Not only that, but many of the countries that they came from had strict quotas for Jews in universities, if they admitted them at all.
He and his generation of towering giants — even with all their doubtless flaws — are the farthest cry from the kind of unbridled, shameless sense of entitlement that millennials display when they demonstrate how completely they have been cut off from the history of the past hundred years — of which Israel Kristal is a living example — when they demand protection from aspects of reality that they simply don’t like. Their mentality is totalitarian, despite all the postmodern jargon, technical gadgets and social media.
They have grown to take their freedom so much for granted that they are willing to throw it all away. A man like Kristal would never understand or condone this kind of behavior. Nor should we.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.