A woman living in Brooklyn who had been recognized as the world’s oldest living Jew – and the seventh-oldest living person in the world – died on June 11 at the highly advanced age of 113. Evelyn (Chava Rivkah) Kozak was highly admired by her family and acquaintances for her consistently upbeat spirit and ready willingness to help others. Kozak passed away in Maimonides Hospital in Boro Park after suffering a heart attack the day before.
Kozak was also the oldest verified Jewish person in history after surpassing fellow American Adelheid Kirschbaum’s age of 113 years and 83 days on November 6, 2012.
Born on New York’s Lower East Side on August 14, 1899, to rich parents who had emigrated here from Russia, Evelyn Kozak (nee Jacobson) was one of nine children. She grew up in Flatbush, on Farragut Road, during a period when there was no house in the area owned by a Jewish family.
Kozak was married in 1921, and had five children, two of whom are deceased, as are her two husbands. She had 10 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild in the United States and Israel.
After working for her parents’ paper box company, the ever-active woman operated a motel in Miami for more than 50 years until she was 90, and enthusiastically played New York Times Scrabble until age 95. Kozak moved from Miami to Pittsburgh, where Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields declared August 5 to be “Evelyn Kozak Day” in Pittsburgh in 2009 in honor of her 110th birthday, saying that she was the oldest living Pittsburgher. Kozak responded, “So much hoopla! I am not entitled to all this kowtowing. Old age does not necessarily equate to wisdom.”
In January of 2010, a stroke forced Kozak to move back to Brooklyn and live together with a granddaughter and eight very young great-grandchildren in Kensington. The beloved family matriarch remained there until the last day of her life, which came two months prior to her 114th birthday.
“People came over for blessings knowing how effective her brochos would be,” granddaughter Sarah Polon related. “People asked her what her secret is. A good conscience, she used to respond.” Speaking at Kozak’s funeral, a grandson declared, “She gave everything from herself, even her best clothing.”
Family members lovingly recalled Kozak’s natural ability to care for others without inhibition. “She cared for every person no matter race or color, type of Jew, affiliation or level of frumkeit. She cared about the human being. She cared about the good,” Polon said.
When someone once observed that she was very honest, Kozak responded, “Honesty doesn’t come in degrees. You are either honest, or not.”
An Orthodox Jew who was devoted to Israel, Kozak loved reading, and enjoyed being read to. When she was 111 years old, she asked relatives to look for an older eligible bachelor for her. But when a 115-year-old bachelor living in Israel was mentioned as a romantic prospect, Kozak said, “He’s too old for me. I don’t want to be alone in my old age.”