Rabbi Pinny Marozov, director of Chabad of Coney Island, wanted to do a mitzvah. So when he found out there was a Jewish man living on his own on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – a Jewish man who was about to turn 111 years old – he decided to pay a visit.
The problem was that Alexander Imich, who has been officially verified as the oldest man in America, second oldest in the world (he was even congratulated by the New York State Senate upon his 110th birthday), was not at home. Imich, who had taken a fall in his apartment and was not found until the next day when a volunteer came to check on him, was in Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. Rabbi Marozov, undeterred, visited him there and helped him put on tefillin to pray. The rabbi planned a home visit to hang up a mezuzah in Imich’s apartment, and agreed to bring me along.
Imich was born in 1903 in Poland, where he later earned his Ph.D. in 1927, despite the best efforts of anti-Semitic professors to sabotage his thesis. He embarked upon a journey that led him through two world wars, the Holocaust, two years in a Russian labor camp near the White Sea, and finally a new life in America in 1952 (with his wife, Wela, who passed away in 1986).
He worked as a chemist and respected scientist, ultimately trying to prove to other mainstream scientists that the neshama (soul) survives physical death, editing and publishing a book, Incredible Tales of the Paranormal, (in 1995, at the age of 92), expounding on this theme and earning high praise from Uri Geller, the celebrated illusionist, as “the most fascinating and unusual book I have ever read in this field [penetrating] the unknown with the support of many testimonies.”
(Uri Geller, reached via e-mail, commented: “I met Alexander Imich in 1972 when I came to the United States from Israel. I found him to be the most amazing person I have ever met. His interest and curiosity in mind power, the paranormal, and psychic phenomenon – from the scientific point of view – was beyond belief. He is an intellect; a man with super knowledge of the beyond and the infinite. I consider him to be a genius! It was from him that I heard the words, ‘Space is not the last frontier; the mind is.’ My only explanation for his longevity is that he knows the secret of how to extract pure energy from the universe and beyond. God bless him.”)
He suffered financial devastation after losing his life savings in the stock market, and then the loneliness of one who has no children, who has outlived all his peers and most family members, most of whom perished in Nazi concentration camps. His grandniece, Karen Bogen, on his wife’s side of the family says that Imich does have some living, blood relatives: “He has a nephew, Jan Imich, who has children and grandchildren. A few weeks ago, Jan visited with his son and grandson, so we had four generations together. Jan and his extended family live in England.”
Alexander Imich’s 111th birthday took place on Feb. 4, while he was in Roosevelt Hospital. A few days later, he returned home to the same apartment he and Wela had rented in 1965 – weak, with failing eyesight due to macular degeneration and practically deaf – as the hospital had lost both of his hearing aids.
Imich was reportedly in a state of despair, no longer being able to hear and communicate with others, expressing something he had never said in all his 111 years – that he wanted to die, already. And then he stopped eating.