Victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack
Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger. (Photo, top row, from left: CMU via Youtube, Facebook, Mallinger family/UPMC via AP, Facebook, David DeFelice via AP, Twitter. Bottom row: Facebook (2), Barry Werber via AP (2), Facebook, Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)
The victims of the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history were doctors and dentists, accountants and academics, retirees and senior citizens who didn’t let age get in their way. Two were brothers, another two a married couple. One was 97.
All 11 shared a dedication to the Tree of Life synagogue, where they were killed Saturday in a shooting rampage.
And they were “all very gentle, caring, compassionate, good people,” said Brian Schreiber, the president of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and a member of Tree of Life.
Said Stephen Cohen, co-president of one of the congregations that meet there: “The loss is incalculable.”
CECIL AND DAVID ROSENTHAL: ‘SWEET, GENTLE, CARING MEN’
Cecil and David Rosenthal went through life together with help from a disability-services organization. And an important part of the brothers’ lives was the Tree of Life synagogue, where they never missed a Saturday service, people who knew them say.
“If they were here, they would tell you that is where they were supposed to be,” Chris Schopf, a vice president of the organization Achieva, said in a statement.
Achieva had worked for decades with Cecil, 59, and David, 54. The developmentally disabled brothers lived independently together in an Achieva building, spokeswoman Lisa Razza told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. David had worked with Achieva’s cleaning service and at Goodwill Industries, and Cecil was hoping to start working soon, she said.
While David was quieter, Cecil had a personality that got him dubbed “the honorary mayor of Squirrel Hill,” the venerable Jewish enclave where the synagogue sits.
Cecil was up for all sorts of activities: a concert, lunch at Eat ’n Park — a regional restaurant chain known for its smiley-face cookies — even a trip to the Duquesne University dining hall, recalls David DeFelice, a Duquesne senior who was paired with him in a buddies program three years ago. The two became friends, DeFelice said.
“He was a very gregarious person — loved being social, loved people. … You could put him in any situation, and he’d make it work,” chatting about the weather or asking students about their parents and talking about his own, said DeFelice.
And when DeFelice recognized Hebrew letters on Cecil’s calendar, the elder man was delighted to learn his buddy was also Jewish and soon invited him to Tree of Life. DeFelice joined him on a couple of occasions and could see Cecil cherished his faith and the sense of community he found at temple.
Emeritus Rabbi Alvin Berkun saw that, too, in Cecil and David.
“They really found a home at the synagogue, and people reciprocated,” he said.
Cecil also frequented the Jewish Community Center, where he’d greet Schreiber with a comedic bit: “Brian, you’re fired!”
“Cecil, you’ve fired me a thousand times, and I keep coming back to work,” Schreiber would respond with a smile.
Cecil carried a photo in his wallet of David, whom Schopf remembers as a man with “such a gentle spirit.”
“Together, they looked out for each other,” she said. “Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around.”
The two left an impression on state Rep. Dan Frankel, who sometimes attends services at Tree of Life and whose chief of staff is the Rosenthals’ sister.
“They were very sweet, gentle, caring men,” Frankel said.
“I know that this community will really mourn their loss because they were such special people,” he added.
BERNICE AND SYLVAN SIMON: HELPING OTHERS AS A TEAM
Bernice and Sylvan Simon were always ready to help other people, longtime friend and neighbor Jo Stepaniak says, and “they always did it with a smile and always did it with graciousness.”
“Anything that they could do, and they did it as a team,” she said.
The Simons, who were among those massacred Saturday, were fixtures in the townhome community on the outskirts of Pittsburgh where they had lived for decades. She’d served on the board, and he was a familiar face from his walks around the neighborhood, with the couple’s dog in years past.
Sylvan, 86, was a retired accountant with a good sense of humor — the kind of person his former rabbi felt comfortable joking with after Sylvan broke his arm a couple of weeks ago. (The rabbi emeritus, Alvin Berkun, quipped that Sylvan had to get better so he could once again lift the Torah, the Jewish holy scripture.)
Bernice, 84, a former nurse, loved classical music and devoted time to charitable work, according to Stepaniak and neighbor Inez Miller.
And both Simons cared deeply about Tree of Life synagogue.
“(They) were very devoted, an active, steady presence,” Berkun said. The Simons had married there in a candlelight ceremony nearly 62 years earlier, according to the Tribune-Review.
Tragedy has struck their family before: One of the couple’s sons died in a 2010 motorcycle accident in California. And now the Simons’ deaths are reverberating through their family and community.
“Bernice and Sylvan were very good, good-hearted, upstanding, honest, gracious, generous people. They were very dignified and compassionate,” Stepaniak said, her voice breaking. “Best neighbors that you could ask for.”
MELVIN WAX: ‘A SWEET, SWEET GUY’
Melvin Wax was always the first to arrive at New Light Congregation, which rented space in the lower level of Tree of Life, and the last to leave.
“He was a gem. He was a gentleman,” recalled fellow congregant Barry Werber. “There was always a smile on his face.”
Myron Snider remembered “Mel” as a friend who would stay late to tell jokes with him, a retired accountant who was unfailingly generous, and a pillar of the congregation, filling just about every role except cantor.
“If somebody didn’t come that was supposed to lead services, he could lead the services and do everything. He knew how to do everything at the synagogue. He was really a very learned person,” said Snider, a retired pharmacist and chairman of the congregation’s cemetery committee.
“He and I used to, at the end of services, try to tell a joke or two to each other. Most of the time they were clean jokes. Most of the time. I won’t say all the time. But most of the time.”
New Light moved to the Tree of Life building about a year ago, when the congregation of about 100 mostly older members could no longer afford its own space, said administrative assistant Marilyn Honigsberg. She said Wax, who lost his wife, Sandra, in 2016, was always there when services began at 9:45 a.m.
Snider had just been released from a six-week hospital stay for pneumonia and was not at Saturday’s services.
“He called my wife to get my phone number in the hospital so he could talk to me,” Snider said. “Just a sweet, sweet guy.”
JERRY RABINOWITZ: ‘TRUSTED CONFIDANT, HEALER’
Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz and his partner in his medical practice were seemingly destined to spend their professional lives together.
He and Dr. Kenneth Ciesielka had been friends for more than 30 years, since they lived on the same floor at the University of Pennsylvania. Ciesielka was a few years behind Rabinowitz, but whether by fate or design, the two always ended up together. They went to the same college, the same medical school and even had the same residency at UPMC a few years apart.
“He is one of the finest people I’ve ever met. We’ve been in practice together for 30 years and friends longer than that,” Ciesielka said. “His patients are going to miss him terribly. His family is going to miss him terribly and I am going to miss him. He was just one of the kindest, finest people.”
Former Allegheny County deputy district attorney Law Claus remembered Rabinowitz, a 66-year-old victim in Saturday’s shooting, as more than a physician for him and his family for the last three decades.
“He was truly a trusted confidant and healer,” he wrote in an email to his former co-workers on Sunday. “Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz … could always be counted upon to provide sage advice whenever he was consulted on medical matters, usually providing that advice with a touch of genuine humor. He had a truly uplifting demeanor, and as a practicing physician he was among the very best.”
Rabinowitz, 66, was affiliated with UPMC Shadyside hospital, where he was remembered as one of its “kindest physicians.” The UPMC hospital system said in a statement that it “cannot even begin to express the sadness and grief we feel over the loss.”
“Those of us who worked with him respected and admired his devotion to his work and faith. His loss is devastating,” chief quality officer Tami Minnier wrote on Twitter.
Rabinowitz had also been a go-to doctor for HIV patients in the epidemic’s early, desperate days, a physician who “always hugged us as we left his office,” according to Michael Kerr, who credits Rabinowitz with helping him survive.
“Thank you,” Kerr wrote on Facebook, “for having always been there during the most terrifying and frightening time of my life. … You are one of my heroes.”
Olivia Tucker, who is transgender, went to Rabinowitz for a checkup after he treated her grandmother for cancer.
“He’s the only doctor who ever has made a misstep about my trans-ness, and followed it up with really insightful questions with the purpose of learning and growth,” Tucker said. “I felt blessed to have had him.”
JOYCE FIENBERG: ‘MAGNIFICENT, GENEROUS, CARING’
Joyce Fienberg and her late husband, Stephen, were intellectual powerhouses, but those who knew them say they were the kind of people who used that intellect to help others.
Joyce Fienberg, 75, who was among the victims in Saturday’s shooting, spent most of her career at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, retiring in 2008 from her job researching learning in the classroom and in museums. She worked on several projects, including one involving the practices of highly effective teachers.
Dr. Gaea Leinhardt, who was Fienberg’s research partner for decades, said she is devastated by the death of her colleague and friend.
“Joyce was a magnificent, generous, caring, and profoundly thoughtful human being,” she said.
The research center’s current director, Charles Perfetti, said Fienberg earned her bachelor’s degree in social psychology from the University of Toronto, in her native Canada.
She brought a keen mind, engaging personality and “a certain elegance and dignity” to the center, Perfetti said.
“One could have elevated conversations with her that were very interesting,” even if they were brief, he said. “I was always impressed with her.”
Stephen, who died in 2016 after a battle with cancer, was a renowned professor of statistics and social science at Carnegie Mellon University. His work was used in shaping national policies in forensic science, education and criminal justice.
The couple married in 1965 and had moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. Joyce began her work at the center in 1983. The couple had two sons and several grandchildren.
DANIEL STEIN: ‘PASSIONATE ABOUT THE COMMUNITY AND ISRAEL’
Daniel Stein was a visible member of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, where he was a leader in the New Light Congregation and his wife, Sharyn, is the membership vice president of the area’s Hadassah chapter.
“Their Judaism is very important to them, and to him,” said chapter co-president Nancy Shuman. “Both of them were very passionate about the community and Israel.”
Stein, 71, was president of the Men’s Club at Tree of Life. He also was among a corps of the New Light members who, along with Wax and Richard Gottfried, 65, made up “the religious heart” of the congregation, said Cohen, the congregation co-president.
Stein’s nephew Steven Halle told the Tribune-Review his uncle “was always willing to help anybody.”
With his generous spirit and dry sense of humor, “he was somebody that everybody liked,” Halle said.
ROSE MALLINGER: SHOOTER’S OLDEST VICTIM
Rose Mallinger was 97, but you’d never know it, Schreiber said.
“She just had spring in her step,” he said. So much so that when congregants at the synagogue were told to stand if they were able, there was no question: Mallinger stood, even while some seniors younger than she stayed seated.
She was at services every week, accompanied by her whole family on major holidays.
“Her faith and her connection to Judaism was very, very important to her,” Schreiber said. Mallinger was routinely called on to lead one of the English-language prayers that her congregation recited after Hebrew prayers, he said.
Her daughter, Andrea Wedner, 61, was among the wounded, the family said.
RICHARD GOTTFRIED: PREPARING FOR RETIREMENT
Richard Gottfried was getting ready for a new chapter in his life.
Gottfried ran a dental office with his wife and practice partner Margaret “Peg” Durachko Gottfried. The couple met at the University of Pittsburgh as dental students, according to the Washington Post, and opened their practice together in 1984.
Gottfried, who often saw patients who could not otherwise afford dental care, was preparing to retire in the next few months.
He, along with Wax and Stein, “led the service, they maintained the Torah, they did what needed to be done with the rabbi to make services happen,” Cohen said.
“He died doing what he liked to do most,” said Don Salvin, Gottfried’s brother-in-law, told the Washington Post.
IRVING YOUNGER: ‘NEVER HAD AN UNKIND WORD’
A neighbor in Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington neighborhood on Sunday remembered victim Irving Younger as “a really nice guy.”
Jonathan Voye told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Younger, 69, was personable and occasionally spoke with him about family or the weather.
“I’m scared for my kids’ future,” Mr. Voye told the Post-Gazette. “How can you have that much hate for your fellow neighbor?”
Tina Prizner, who told the Tribune-Review she’s lived next door to Younger for several years, said he was a “wonderful” father and grandfather.
The one-time real estate company owner “talked about his daughter and his grandson, always, and he never had an unkind word to say about anybody,” Prizner told the Tribune-Review.
Beth Markovic, owner of Murray Avenue Kosher grocery and deli, said Younger was a dedicated customer who was especially fond of her meatloaf and chicken salad and asked her to alert him when she was making it.
“So every time I make those things, I will certainly be thinking of him,” Markovic said. “I have his phone number right in front of me where I do my work. So, we feel it. We feel it very much.” (AP)