Israel Esquenazi, a Cuban exile who fled the island as a young boy and went on to became a successful jeweler and an active force in Lindenhurst's village government, died on Jan. 9 after a short battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He was 68.
A popular figure in his hometown of Lindenhurst, Esquenazi was known for his absurdist sense of humor and passion for improving the community, friends and family members said.
Esquenazi had a wide array of interests. In college, he studied Classical music. He would later spend more than four decades working as a jeweler in Manhattan's diamond district and in 2012 was appointed to Lindenhurst's Two-Family Village Review Board, which rules on rental permits. But Esquenazi was first and foremost a family man who stressed education and hard work among his three children, according to his oldest daughter, Lisa Bisciello.
"He was our protector and provider," said Bisciello, 41, a school counselor from Lindenhurst. "And if there was ever any problem, he would take care of it."
Esquenazi was born in Havana, Cuba, the youngest of four children to Isaac Eskenazi, a cobbler in a shoe shop, and Belina Eskenazi, a stay-at-home mom. The family's name was changed by a customs official after they moved to the United States, Bisciello said.
At 9-years-old, Esquenazi was sent to the United States, via Jamaica, by his parents along with his older sister, Elisa, then 20, of Wantagh, to escape the rule of President Fidel Casto, who mandated military service for all Cubans, including young boys. Esquenazi's parents and their two other children, Marcos, who has since died, and Salvador, who currently lives in Florida, soon joined them and the family settled in Brooklyn.
Esquenazi graduated from the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, where he studied violin, and from the Manhattan School of Music, where he would meet his future wife, Roselyne, then an aspiring opera singer. The couple dated through college and married in 1975.
He got a job out of college teaching guitar to students at Beach Channel High School, a now defunct school in Far Rockaway. But when New York City went through a financial crisis in the late 1970s, funding for music education dried up and Esquenazi followed his brother Salvador into the jewelry business. Roselyne, meanwhile, took positions in customer service.
Esquenazi would work 45 years in his shop, continuing to trek into Manhattan every workday, even after he got ill, family members said.
The couple moved to Lindenhurst in 1980 to expand their family. Israel and Roselyne would have two more children: Joseph Esquenazi, 39, who works for Canon, and Jennifer Winn, 34, a special-education teacher in a Hewlett elementary school. All three siblings live in Lindenhurst.
Esquenazi, family members said, also had a passion for playing Lotto, hoping to hit it big. In 2012, his luck paid off, winning $15,000 in the New York Lottery's Bonanza scratch-off game. Bisciello said her dad used his winnings to help pay for each of his children's weddings.
"He was always so generous," said Winn, who described her father as "the life of the party" at social gatherings. "Whatever you needed he would take care of."
In his later years, Esquenazi showed an interest in local government and took a part-time position on the Two-Family Village Review Board.
Peggy Allar, the board's chairwoman, said Esquenazi was exceeding proud of the post, often referring to himself as a "village official."
"He felt like he was making a difference in the community," Allar said, recalling that Esquenazi rushed to affix a sticker to his vehicle identifying his role with the village. "And this was one way he could do it."
Esquenazi is survived by his wife, three children, sons-in-law Christian Bisciello and David Winn; daughter-in-law, Beatrice Esquenazi; two surviving siblings; and three grandchildren.