Although he only lived 34 short years, Israel accomplished a lot in his short life. To me he was known as “Abba” the Hebrew word for Daddy, and he was the world to me and my sister. I thought it would be appropriate on this site to share with you a bit about the man my father was and the life he lived.
Israel was born to Hungarian holocaust survivors who decided to marry after the war. They each had lost spouses and children in the holocaust and this was their second marriage and chance to start over. They had my aunt Miriam in Hungary and my father, Israel Asher was born three years later in Israel. They named him after his deceased grandfather who perished in the concentration camps.
Israel meant the world to them. He was the hope that their name will continue onward, despite their tragic past. In return my father had the utmost respect and love for them, even going so far as to travel to Israel at a moment’s notice later on, if he even heard his parents needed something trivial like their air conditioner fixed.
His parents raised their children in the orthodox Jewish tradition, sending them to Yeshiva. Israel was an extremely bright boy who did very well. He also was very well liked by his peers and was considered a leader. Israel also had a love for animals and (to his mother’s dismay) always made sure to bring home every stray cat and creature.
Israel always had a head for business and from a young age thought of creative ways to make money, from various jobs he took, to different business ideas. At the same time he was very generous with any money he earned and always thought of ways to help others. As a teen he put together a organization that gave interest free loans to people who needed money. He felt that giving people interest free loans was a great way to recycle the money over and over so that many can benefit. As people paid back the loans in small installments, the money went to others who needed it.
Israel, like many yeshiva boys, did not go to university; rather he studied in “Chevron”, a top notch yeshiva that also taught a trade. Israel always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur and his own boss, and in his early 20’s he opened up the first pizza store in his home town, Bnei Brak. It was revolutionary and controversial because no one had ever opened up a pizza store in that neighborhood. Because Bnei Brak is ultra orthodox, the community viewed pizza stores as a forbidden social hangout where men and women can intermingle. Despite the disapproval of some of the more traditional residents the pizza store took off. (Today there are dozens and dozens of pizza stores in Bnei Brak.)
Israel was set up with Leah by a friend when he was 21, and shortly after they got engaged. They were a beautiful couple, young, handsome and excited about their future. Their first child, Michal, was born in 1976 in Israel. Shortly after they decided to move to South Africa to learn the diamond trade from Leah’s father Joseph Gubitz. The Pizza store was left to be managed by others, but eventually they sold it.
Israel was a quick study, and 6 months later they decided to move to America, the land of opportunity. There they had their second child Yael in 1977.
Israel began to build his Jewelry business, calling it Blue River Enterprises. Because he was very likable and responsible, his business quickly grew. In addition to being a jeweler, he was always open to new business ideas, such as real estate, and had his hand in many different projects. In 1979 the Greenwald’s purchased their first home, on a quiet street in Far Rockaway in an orthodox community.
Even though Israel continued to meet success in his various businesses, he maintained a very orthodox lifestyle. He prayed three times a day and always attended synagogue on the Sabbath and holidays. He made sure to send his girls to the most orthodox school. In addition, he continued his philanthropic ways and always gave a tremendous amount of charity. In addition to supporting all the local organizations in his community, Israel was known to help friends in need regularly. Whether it was a friend who was just buying his first home and needed help with the down payment, or a woman getting a divorce and needing extra financial support, Israel gave without hesitation. He also supported many poor families regularly, without telling anyone. Israel was not one who sought recognition. To him giving was part of life and an obligation if you were more fortunate. The more successful he was, the more he gave.
Israel was incredibly organized and responsible. He made sure from a young age to have life insurance at all times. He always called home several times a day, and despite his frequent trips abroad, never once did he stay through the weekend. He was always home for the Sabbath.
Israel’s love for animals continued on as an adult too, and aside from the dogs and cats the family always had, he purchased a pet monkey one day, just because his kids asked for one.
Israel was very bright, very ambitious and able to do many things at once. So trusted was he, that he became a diplomat to Liberia since he traveled their often for his jewelry business.
It is because of his trusting nature, that he unwittingly got involved in 1985 in transferring a bond for a friend. He never imagined who his friend was involved with and what the scheme was about. When he was put in the terrible position of tape recording his friend, he was terribly conflicted as to what he should do. It was a terrible time period of his life, a no win situation. He hoped that the FEDS would not need him as a witness. At the same time he was angry at his friend for putting him in such a bad position. He talked about picking up and moving his family back to Israel, so he wouldn’t have to be the one to send his friend to jail. He did not know that this position that he was put into would lead to his premature death.
At the end he was killed because the word got back to Burt Kaplan, who feared that if Israel cooperated, his whole scheme would go bust and he’d end up in jail. Kaplan, the man behind the bond scheme, hired the NYPD cops, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, to kill him, thus ending the life of an honest, good person who had a bright future ahead of him and a family who loved him dearly.
Because Israel’s body was never found, the case was not solved until 19 years later, when Kaplan finally decided to talk. As a result Israel’s family was left in the dark about what had happened to their soul patriarch and breadwinner. His disappearance was a catalyst to the family’s demise, starting with their financial ruin due to not being able to collect any death benefits. In addition, many former business associates as well as insurance brokers took advantage of the family’s vulnerable position. In one instance a property in Florida, jointly owned by Israel and an associate, was sold without consent, all profits taken by his partner. In another instance, a house owned by Israel and a carpenter friend was also sold, with Israel’s portion being paid off by the contractor with construction work that was worth a fraction of what the property was worth. The worst case of betrayal involved New York Life and a broker who worked for them. My next blog will be about the terrible action they did to the Greenwald family after Israel went missing in 1986..