Tag Archives: Record Holders

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Zecharia Barashi

World’s Oldest Jew

Rabbi Barashi (Credit: Lazar Berman)

Zecharia Barashi (1900-2017) was born in Kurdistan, the last of ten children in an observant Jewish family. His father was a rabbi who traveled from village to village, serving the needs of small Jewish communities in Iraq. Unfortunately, this job did not come with a salary, and the poor family made a meager living by sowing clothes and selling nuts and dates. Several years of harsh poverty, disease, and the difficulties of the First World War left six of the ten children dead. Barashi himself nearly died when he was 11 years old. He would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a rabbi as well. Inspired by Zionism, Barashi struggled to move the family to Israel. In 1936, he finally got a chance by working as a Hebrew interpreter for the Jewish Agency. After a long and arduous journey, the family settled in Jerusalem. Throughout World War II and Israel’s ensuing War of Independence, Barashi supported the war effort by digging trenches, and paving roads and runways. In 1950, the Jews of Iraq and Kurdistan made a mass aliyah to Israel, and Barashi soon became their spiritual leader. He would go on to earn the esteemed title of Chacham, “Sage”. He also published four important books on Judaism. He was in the midst of writing his fifth book when, at the age of 111, his eyesight became too poor. Deeply respected as one of Israel’s greatest rabbis, Barashi was known for his incredible memory, humility, and great sense of humour. Sadly, he passed away earlier this week. Until that moment, he was the world’s oldest living Jew. He was also Israel’s oldest living resident, having spent over 80 years in Jerusalem. Although he outlived two of his own children and his beloved wife, he is survived by five more children, 29 grandchildren, 72 great-grandchildren, and 24 great-great-grandchildren. His advice for a long life: “Always be happy, never jealous. Stay active. And never overeat, always leave the table a little hungry.”

Words of the Week

“My brain is the key that sets my mind free.”
Harry Houdini

Rabbi Barashi with Shimon Peres (Credit: Mark Neyman/Flash90)

Jews of the Week: Naomi Kutin & Scot Mendelson

The World’s Strongest People

Naomi Kutin, "Supergirl" (courtesy: www.jewpop.com)

Naomi Kutin, “Supergirl”
(courtesy: www.jewpop.com)

Naomi Kutin (b. 2001) was born in New Jersey to a Modern Orthodox family. Her father is a former professional weightlifter (with a number of records under his belt), and introduced his daughter to the sport when she was just eight years old after noting her incredible strength. A few months later, Naomi went to her first competition, and broke a national record. At age 10, she set a world record in women’s powerlifting, breaking an earlier record set by a 44-year old woman! Two years later, she squatted over 231 pounds to set a new women’s world record, despite being just 12 years old. She has earned the nickname “supergirl”, and is often described as the world’s strongest young lady. Naomi doesn’t let her weightlifting get in the way of religious observance; she still goes to an Orthodox school and never competes on Shabbat.

Scot Mendelson (courtesy: Powerlifting USA)

Scot Mendelson
(courtesy: Powerlifting USA)

Meanwhile, the world’s greatest bench-presser is also Jewish, Brooklyn-born Scot Mendelson (b. 1969). Growing up playing sports, Mendelson progressed from ball games to wrestling, boxing, bodybuilding, and finally powerlifting. In 2003, he set the all-time world record (regardless of weight class) by bench pressing 713 pounds. All in all, he has broken over 60 records in his career, winning four World Championships. He currently resides in California, where he operates a gym, and also runs a wellness centre together with actor Eric Roberts.

Words of the Week

Those who are born are destined to die, and those who die are destined to live again.
– Pirkei Avot 4:22

Jews of the Week: Keleti and Gorokhovskaya

Gorokhovskaya and Keleti

Agnes Keleti (b. 1921) was born in Budapest and was Hungary’s national gymnastics champion by age 16. Shortly after, World War II began, forcing Keleti to go into hiding. Much of her family, including her father, were killed in the Holocaust. Keleti survived by posing as a Christian villager. After the war, she began training once more, but had to overcome injuries that prevented her from competing. Determined to go on, she qualified for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and won 4 medals, including a gold. Keleti returned to the Olympics in 1956, winning 6 more medals, 3 of which were gold. Being 35 years old at the time made her the oldest-ever gold medal winner in her sport. Her ten total medals makes her among the most decorated female athletes of all time. She also won at the 1954 World Championship. After the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956, Keleti immigrated to Israel, where she still lives today.

A very similar story is that of Maria Gorokhovskaya. Like Keleti, she was born in 1921 (in Ukraine) and took up gymnastics at a young age. After surviving the war, she also competed at the 1952 Helsinki Games, winning 2 golds and 5 silvers. Her 7 medals in one Olympiad is still a world record. Like Keleti, Gorokhovskaya won at the 1954 World Championships, too. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, she made aliyah to Israel in 1990. Both Keleti and Gorokhovskaya have been inducted in the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. In addition, Keleti has been inducted to the Hungarian and Gymnastics Halls of Fame.

Words of the Week

Everything that is for the sake of God should be of the best and most beautiful… When one feeds the hungry, one should feed them of the best and sweetest of one’s table. When one clothes the naked, one should clothe them with the finest of one’s clothes.
– Maimonides