Alexander Imich.(WSJ)
Navigate to News section

The 111-Year-Old and His Chicken Noodle Soup

Alexander Imich, the world’s oldest man, likes to eat Jewish comfort food

Stephanie Butnick
May 05, 2014
Alexander Imich.(WSJ)

At 111 and one quarter years old, Alexander Imich is the world’s oldest man. (The world’s oldest woman is 116, and lives in Japan.) The New York Times sat down with the Jewish scholar of the occult (really), who was born in Poland in 1903 and now lives on the Upper West Side, as he celebrated his 111th birthday.

Mr. Imich remembers the first automobile in his hometown, fighting the Bolsheviks in the Polish-Soviet War, escaping the Holocaust and surviving a Soviet gulag. He then immigrated to the United States, finding time to master the computer and publish a book on the paranormal at 92.

He grew up in a well-to-do family of secular Jews in Czestochowa in southern Poland, known for its famous painting of the Black Madonna. His father, who owned a decorating business, installed an airstrip for early aviators.

The Times asked for the secrets of his longevity, though his answers are very much vague demurrals, as modest as they are genuinely unconcerned. “Did his many hardships prolong his life? ‘It’s hard to say.’” “He and his wife never had children. That might have helped, he guessed.”

But there was one thing in Imich’s life that seems like it could be a clue to his strikingly long life: Jewish comfort food (and gefilte fish).

He always ate sparingly, inspired by Eastern mystics who disdain food. “There are some people in India who do not eat,” he said admiringly. Now, his home-care aides said, he fancies matzo balls, gefilte fish, chicken noodle soup, Ritz crackers, scrambled eggs, chocolate and ice cream. At the words “ice cream,” Mr. Imich perked up. “Jah!” he interjected.

All of which, as far as I’m concerned, is the highest confirmation of the magical powers of chicken noodle soup. And ice cream.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.