Since the beginning of the recent wave of terror in Israel, with individual Palestinians deciding on the spur of the moment to stab Israelis, and — most probably — to pay with their lives for it, Israelis have not been spoiled with too many good news.
Therefore, it was bit of fresh air to learn that the Guinness Book of Records had announced that Israel Kristal, a 112-year-old Israeli from Haifa, was the oldest living man on earth.
Kristal, who was born in Poland on September 15, 1903 — just three months before Orville Wright made the first powered airplane flight — and who went through two world wars, survived Auschwitz, witnessed the rise and fall of empires and the establishment of the Jewish state, summarized the lesson he had learned from his long life: “All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”
The only spoiler in these happy tidings is the fact that Kristal is surpassed by an older person — a woman, not surprisingly: Susannah Mushatt Jones of Montgomery, Ala., who is pushing 117. Her recipe: “I never drink or smoke. I surround myself with love and positive energy. That’s the key to long life and happiness.”
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Elated by the messages of these super-centenarians, I embarked on finding in the otherwise gloomy atmosphere more good news, and lo and behold, there is no shortage of good news if you only care to look. Here is a sample from the last few days:
▪ A resident of Jerusalem, Inon Dan-Kehati, founded an organization that encourages the residents of Jerusalem — Jews, Arabs, Christians and others — to clean the city together. He called the initiative “Cleaning the Hate” and urged participants to take pictures of themselves picking up cigarette butts and share them with friends abroad. Soon enough, it became viral, and people in cities all around the world joined.
Samir, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, told the local paper Yedioth Yerushalaim that “the love for our city is one of the rare issues on which everybody agrees in both sides of Jerusalem.” And Gil, an Israeli from West Jerusalem, said that he just got tired of waiting for the government to do something about the conflict, and that by picking up the trash he was doing something.
▪ Following the macabre stabbing spree of a Palestinian in Jaffa last week, there was a concern that businesses in Jaffa, owned predominantly by Israeli Arabs, will be hurt, because people would be afraid to frequent them. A spontaneous initiative of Jews who have Arab friends in Jaffa resulted in an unusual spectacle: Contrary to all expectations, Jaffa last week was packed with people. I took my family there, eating great hummus in one place, drinking black, bitter coffee in another, and finishing in the third with the obligatory desert: The kanafeh, that local cheese pastry soaked with syrup. This gesture of solidarity didn’t go unnoticed by the local merchants.
▪ Hanan al-Haroub, a Palestinian mother from El-Bireh in the West Bank, won the 2016 Global Teacher Award. This Palestinian teacher, in her own words, “adopted non-violence as an ideal.” She encourages her pupils to aspire for normal, healthy future, in spite of their harsh living conditions, and dissuades them from resorting to violence. “We must teach our children that our only weapon is knowledge and education,” she says. “She speaks to the children’s souls,” adds a colleague.
Mrs. al-Haroub, who was selected by the jury of the Dubai-based Varkey Foundation from 8,000 teachers worldwide, said that she will use the $1 million award money for scholarships for students who want to become teachers. More teachers like her means many more pupils with whom we can eventually make peace.
In short, as the 112-year-old Israel Kristal used to say to his son whenever the latter complained about some hardship: “It could have been worse.”