They Died As They Prayed In The Place That Bound Them Together
PITTSBURGH — One was a sprightly 97-year-old who was a regular sight walking around her Pittsburgh neighborhood.
Another was a big hearted retired accountant who did folks’ tax returns for free — and helped collect clothes for a black church after Hurricane Florence struck.
Two were grown brothers who were mentally challenged and had a special bond few siblings could boast of.
Another was a synagogue men’s club president who was praying in the same sanctuary where his grandson was circumcised just a few months ago.
Nothing in particular drew them together on Saturday morning. Except the most obvious thing of all: They were in synagogue celebrating Shabbat. Just like they did pretty much every Saturday.
And so, 11 Jews who did nothing to deserve to die, happened to be together when Robert Bowers brought his twisted hate into their beloved houses of worship. Here are some of their stories.
Joyce Fienberg Became Regular Presence In Synagogue After Husband’s Death
Harriet Singer went to synagogue services at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh to mark the anniversary of her father’s death in August.
On the way out, she started chatting with a woman named Joyce Fienberg, who told Singer that she was just getting involved in the synagogue again, after years of spending little time there. “We talked about perhaps seeing each other at the High Holidays services,” Singer said.
Two months later, Singer heard Fienberg’s name listed on the television news as among the eleven victims of the Tree of Life Congregation massacre.
“It’s all sinking in right now,” Singer said on Sunday, as she began to cry. “I was married in that synagogue and I was confirmed from that synagogue as a teenager and you know it’s just so hard to realize that such brutality took place there.”
Fienberg was 74 years old, the widow of a distinguished and influential statistic professor at Carnegie Mellon University who died in 2016.
When her husband was alive, Fienberg was an irregular visitor to the Tree of Life Congregation. But after his death, she threw herself into the life of the synagogue.
“She spent every day, or close to it, at synagogue since she lost her husband,” said Jennifer March, executive director of Family House, a nonprofit where Fienberg volunteered.
She was killed at the synagogue on October 27, among the victims in the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
“She was a real lady,” Samet said. “She completely dedicated her life to the synagogue since her husband died.”
Christopher Genovese, the head of the Statistics & Data Science department at Carnegie Mellon, where Fienberg’s late husband Stephen Fienberg taught, last saw JOyce on Friday, when she attended the installation of the university’s new president. “Joyce always took an interest in helping people who needed help,” Genovese said. “Joyce was always very calm, very kind and warm.”
Genovese said that she had remained involved in the life of the department after the death of her husband. She chatted with Genovese’s wife at the installation ceremony on Friday, just a day before the massacre.
“In my interactions with her over many years, she was always looking out to how people were doing,” Genovese said.
Fienberg also spent time volunteering at Family House, a nonprofit that provides a place to stay for people traveling to the Pittsburgh area for medical care. Fienberg’s role was to help guests get comfortable in an unfamiliar city, March said. She was known around the nonprofit for her sense of humor.
“We’re going to embrace each other a lot in the next few days,” March said.—Josh Nathan-Kazis
97-Year-Old Rose Mallinger Never Missed Synagogue
Rose Mallinger was 97. But she sure didn’t look or act her age.
Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi at Tree Of Life, said Mallinger, who was the oldest victim of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, would never miss a service.
“She was a synagogue-goer, and not everybody is,” Diamond told the Washington Post. “She’s gone to the synagogue for a lifetime, no matter how many people are there,” Diamond said.
Diamond said Mallinger’s son was a classmate of his.
Rose Mallinger lived nearby in the heavily Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood and was a regular sight on the street and at a local grocery store.
“I feel a part of me died in that building,” he told the Post.
Brian Schreiber, the president of the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh called Mallinger a “fixture of the congregation.”
Schreiber told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Mallinger was a vibrant woman who seemed much younger than her age.
“You’ve never met a more vivacious 97-year-old,” Schreiber said. “She was just so full of life. She had so much energy.”
Mallinger’s daughter, Andrea Wedner, 61, was also worshipping at Tree of Life and was wounded in the rampage. She is expected to recover.
Jerry Rabinowitz Held AIDS Patients’ Hands As Disease Spread
Among the 11 victims murdered Saturday morning at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue was a doctor known for his compassion and understanding of HIV/AIDS in the days when the disease was poorly accepted.
A former patient spoke out about his grief as well as his appreciation for Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, who literally held his hand during the most challenging days of his life.
“In the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh, he was the doctor to go to. He was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest,” Michael Kerr wrote to the Forward on Monday.
Kerr was reportedly a patient of Rabinowitz’s until he left for New York 2004. It was the “old days” for those with HIV — a time before there was an effective treatment, and a major stigma, for the disease that devastated a generation.
“He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always, always hugged us as we left his office,” Kerr wrote.
Rabinowitz treated other types of illnesses as well, practicing as a geriatrician and family physician. He was beloved by his patients, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “You could go to him and present a jumble of physical symptoms and emotional reactions,” and he could sort it all out, said Jan Grice, who has Lupus, an autoimmune disease. Grice was a patient of Rabinowitz’s for 35 years. He was “the sort of doctor who sent you on your way feeling better in all respects,” she added.
Dr. Rabinowitz attended college and medical school at University of Pennsylvania. The 66-year-old was reportedly shot as he rushed to help congregants that had already been wounded.
Melvin Wax Was ‘Pure Soul’ Who Was First In Line To Help Others
Even at age 88, Melvin Wax knew how important it was to stand up for others.
Wax, who was killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue rampage, was among the first to volunteer to help the shul’s partner, Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church, when it held a clothing drive to help people in North Carolina affected by Hurricane Florence.
Wax not only pitched in his own clothes, but made sure others in his building donated too.
“A very pure soul,” said Beth Kissileff, a friend.
Wax was also fixture at religious services with Pittsburgh’s New Light Congregation.
“He was always the first one in shul,” said Beth Kissileff, a New Light community member (and Forward contributor.)
In fact, Wax was leading the Shabbat service when the gunman burst in and started shooting, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
“He went Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, when there were Sunday services,” friend and fellow congregant Myron Snider told the Associated Press. “If somebody didn’t come that was supposed to lead services, he could lead the services and do everything.”
Kissileff said Wax chanted the Haftarah, the weekly selection of readings from the Hebrew prophets, every week.
A retired accountant, Wax also helped out others at tax time.
“He was such a kind, kind person,” Snider told the AP. “When my daughters were younger, they would go to him, and he would help them with their federal income tax every year. Never charged them.”
Daniel Stein Murdered In The Same Room Where His Grandson Was Circumcised
After Daniel Stein was killed during the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh on Saturday, his son Joe posted a photo on Facebook of Daniel playing with his new grandson.
“My dad was a simple man and did not require much,” Joe wrote. “In the picture below he was having a great day doing two things he loved very much. He had just finished coming from synagogue, which he loved, and then got to play with his grandson which he loved even more!”
The grandchild’s bris, or circumcision ceremony, was held earlier this year at New Light Congregation, community member Kissileff told the Forward. “He died in the same room,” she said.
Daniel Stein, 71, was president of Tree of Life’s Men’s Club. The Washington Post reported that Stein was retired but had worked a variety of jobs, including salesman and substitute teacher.
Rabbi Seth Adelson of nearby Congregation Beth Shalom lived on the same street as Stein. They’d see each other in the neighborhood or at the gym regularly, he said. “He was very friendly…just a very nice guy,” Adelson said.
Stein’s nephew Steven Halle told BuzzFeed News that Stein was a “family man.” He noted how tragic it was that Stein’s grandson will grow up without him.
“I think that’s the worst of it,” he said. “This grandson will never get to have his grandfather. It’s a tragic loss.”
He added that Stein “loved going to the synagogue every Saturday, every week, to do events. He loved to be there. This is what he looked forward to every week. He never missed it.”
Kissileff remembered Stein as “devoted to the shul.” She noted that he still had the same Haftarah booklet from his Bar Mitzvah, and would read that selection from the prophets every year.
“There’s nothing to replace him,” she said.
Brothers Bound Together By Love
Cecil and David Rosenthal were brothers and so much more to one another.
Cecil, 59, “was kind of a fixture in our community,” Rabbi Adelson of Congregation Beth Shalom told the Forward.
Cecil and his brother David, 54, lived together in an apartment in Squirrel Hill. They were both mentally challenged, a friend told the Pittsburgh Tribune.
Cecil “was really a shul guy. He loved synagogue,” Adelson said. Although Cecil was a regular greeter at Tree of Life, he would also pray at Beth Shalom in the evenings.
Adelson said he had just spoken on Thursday with Cecil, who was returning a beginners’ Hebrew textbook he had borrowed. “He was just a real sweetheart of a guy,” Adelson said.
The Rosenthals were mourned by ACHIEVA, a local disability group that worked with them.
“Cecil’s laugh was infectious. David was so kind and had such a gentle spirit. Together, they looked out for one another,” ACHIEVA vice president Chris Schopf told the Tribune. “They were inseparable. Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around.”
The Rosenthal’s neighbor, Raye Coffey, also had praise for the brothers.
“Cecil was always a big brother. He was very warm and very loving. Whenever he would see us, he would always say, ‘Hi, Coffeys!’
“David was quieter. But both were … to die like this is horrendous.”
Married For 61 Years, Husband And Wife Slain In Synagogue Are Laid To Rest
The only couple to die in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting were laid to rest Thursday.
Late on an overcast Thursday morning, mourners trickled into the Ralph Schugar Chapel for the funeral of Sylvan Simon, 86, and his wife, Bernice, 84, who had been married for nearly 62 years. He was a retired accountant, she a retired nurse.
Augie Siriano, a custodian at Tree of Life, said the couple often brought him chocolate chip cookies, and that Sylvan Simon liked to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers professional football team.
“They were just wonderful, graceful people,” Siriano said.
‘Beloved’ Dentist Richard Gottfried Shared Practice With His Wife
Richard Gottfried was “loyal” and a beloved dentist to his patients.
Friends and family lined up in the afternoon to pay their respects at the funeral for Gottfried, 65, who shared a practice with his wife, Peg.
Dr. Jane Segal, a dentist who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh a year ahead of Gottfried, said he was a “wonderful man and a wonderful dentist.”
“You couldn’t find anyone finer,” she said.
Also in line was Dr. Paul Taicelt, who said he and Gottfried had provided free dental clinics and volunteered for Catholic Charities together.
“He was very conscientious and very loyal,” Taicelt said. “And all of his patients loved him.”
Irving Younger “Would Never Walk Away From Anyone”
Irving Younger, 68, was one of 11 people killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Younger was a local man — he graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw this gunman walk into the room where the services were and his first thought was ‘Can I help this stranger get settled?’ — until he saw what the stranger was doing — because that’s the kind of thought that he would have,” Barton Schachter, a past president of Tree of Life, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette