NEW YORK – The world’s oldest Jewish person, Evelyn Kozak, whose family fled Russia to escape anti-Semitism in the 1880s, has died at age 113.
Kozak died Tuesday after suffering a heart attack the day before, her granddaughter Brucha Weisberger said. She was buried next to her parents in a cemetery in Brooklyn.
Kozak was the world’s oldest documented Jewish person and the world’s seventh-oldest person, said Robert Young, a senior database administrator at the Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group, an organization of physicians, scientists and engineers who validate supercentenarians, people 110 or older.
While a series of strokes about three years ago left Kozak in a wheelchair and paralyzed on her right side, her mind was always sharp, Weisberger said Thursday. For the past three years, Kozak had lived with her granddaughter and the granddaughter’s husband and children in Brooklyn.
“As old as she was, we really expected her to live forever,” said Weisberger, one of nearly a dozen grandchildren. “She was strong and incredible. We thought she would be going on and on and on.”
Kozak, who was one of nine children, was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Aug. 14, 1899. Her family had moved from Russia to escape organized anti-Semitic attacks.
She spent much of her adult life in Miami, where she ran a boarding house for many years, fixing meals for her tenants, Weisberger said.
“Sometimes she would say, ‘I always try to help everyone and not hurt anyone,”‘ Weisberger said. “And even when they say, ‘It’s not your business to help someone,’ she felt that it was her business.”
Kozak believed in being truthful and honest, Weisberger said.
“She always said a good conscience was the secret to a long life,” she added.
Though Kozak had no formal religious education, she was religious, keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath. When she was 110, she started covering her hair, as many traditionally orthodox Jewish women do.
Kozak was married twice but had been a widow since 1957. She had five children, 10 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson. Besides New York, she had lived in Perth Amboy, N.J., Miami and Pittsburgh.
The world’s oldest person, Misao Okawa, of Japan, is 115, the Gerontology Research Group said.