Baruch dayan ha’emet
Murdered congregants were called “kind,” “compassionate” and “faithful.”
The 11 people who were murdered at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha on Oct. 27, all beloved members of the community, have been described as “kind,” “compassionate” and “faithful” by those who knew them. They ranged in age from 54 to 97 and include a couple who married at Tree of Life in 1956, and two brothers with developmental disabilities who had been fixtures at the synagogue since they were children.
Announcements for funerals began going out on Sunday, with the first services being held on Tuesday.
Here is a look at who we lost.
Fienberg, 75, grew up in Toronto, and studied psychology at the University of Toronto. She was married to the late Stephen Fienberg, a renowned professor of statistics at Carnegie Mellon University and a longtime board member of the Chronicle.
They married in 1965 and moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1980s.
Fienberg, who lived in Oakland, worked as a research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Research and Development Center from 1983 until her retirement in 2008, and was a member of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha.
“She was a wonderful person,” said Alvin Berkun, rabbi emeritus of TOL*OLS. “She was bright, articulate and compassionate.”
When her husband died, she began coming to the synagogue to worship “on a regular basis and became an integral part of the community,” Berkun continued. “I sat near her, and I admired her siddur; she had these stickers on the different pages for the different prayers and she turned the [prayer] experience into a kind of study. It was impressive to see.”
In her position at Pitt, Fienberg was tasked with interviewing teachers and observing them in their classrooms.
“Joyce was wonderful at these tasks because she was so honest, sincere, and caring,” said longtime colleague Gaea Leinhardt. “This sense of real engagement with whomever Joyce was talking to was deeply appreciated by teachers and their students, and led to important understandings about the nature of the learning that was going on. Even in these somewhat dry situations Joyce’s warmth always came through.
“But Joyce was not only a warm and gentle person, she had a vibrant sense of humor and was surprisingly strong when she felt it was necessary.”
Christopher Genovese, chair of the department of statistics at CMU, first met Fienberg about 24 years ago when he came to Pittsburgh to interview for a position at the university. Fienberg was closely connected to the department through her husband.
“She was very welcoming,” Genovese recalled. “She got involved in the department and got to know the students and the faculty, and really became a part of the department.”
He described Fienberg as someone who was able to remain “calm, reassuring, warm and kind,” even in the midst of a crisis.
After her husband died, Genovese said, Fienberg made it a point to become even more involved with initiatives of CMU’s statistics department, particularly those supportive of underrepresented students.
“She was always looking to help the community,” he said.
Dr. Richard Gottfried
“The entire city of Pittsburgh should be mourning his loss,” said Gottfried’s friend and colleague, Dr. Richard DeFilippo. “He was an incredible human being.”
Gottfried, 65, lived in Ross Township and was married to Dr. Peg Durachko, both dentists and graduates of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine. He had a private practice for more than 30 years in West View.
A past president of New Light Congregation, Gottfried was its current religious committee chairman.
DiFilippo worked alongside Gottfried as a volunteer dentist at Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh. During the nine years Gottfried volunteered there, he donated more than 900 hours of his time providing dental services to those in need, according to Susan Rauscher, executive director of Catholic Charities.
“Patients just loved him,” she said. “He was so kind and compassionate, and he smiled all the time. He was always putting everyone at ease and his care was remarkable.”
Since 2011, both Gottfried and his wife worked part time for the Squirrel Hill Health Center.
“They have been a part of the fabric of our health center, providing care to our underserved patients, especially our refugee and immigrant patients, with care and compassion,” said Susan Friedberg Kalson, CEO of the SHHC.
“He was really devoted to caring for our patients from all walks of life,” she said. “He lived his Judaism by providing care to his patients.”
He also served as a mentor to members of the staff of the SHHC, according to Kalson.
“Many said that he was like a second father to them,” she said.
Gottfried was also an “excellent clinician,” noted DiFilippo. “He provided the top quality of care to all the patients he came into contact with.”
His wife was not Jewish, and the couple “supported each other in their faiths,” noted DiFilippo.
“Do not let his death be in vain,” wrote his wife. “Drive out evil from your own life and help another to drive it out of their life. The only way to combat evil is with love.
“I know that Judaism was incredibly important to Rich and at the heart of his desire to give back to those in need. We will miss him. And we are determined to continue our work as he would have wanted.”
The woman in the photo identified as Rose Mallinger in the print version of this story, which appeared in our Nov. 2 issue, is not Rose Mallinger. The correct photo can be found in this digital version of the article. The Chronicle apologizes to the family and to the community for this mistake.
Mallinger, 97, grew up in a suburb of New Kensington, Pa. She was a devoted member of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, volunteering in many capacities there, and attending services regularly with her sister, Sylvia.
“She was a fixture at Tree of Life,” Berkun said. “She was amazing for her age.”
Shelly Schapiro, a former director of education at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, remembered Mallinger, who lived in Squirrel Hill, as “a friendly, sweet, kind and warm woman. She and her sister would come into the building regularly, and would always stop by my office to say hello. She was just a very caring lady.”
Even at her advanced age, Mallinger and her cousin took the lead in planning the extended family’s Passover seders each year, said family member Elysa Schwartz.
“They would plan the whole thing,” Schwartz said, “up until the most recent one.”
“Rosie was in perfect health,” Schwartz added, noting that she was still physically active and frequently walked to Giant Eagle for her groceries.
“Everyone knew her,” Schwartz said. “She was the sweetest lady.”
Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz
Rabinowitz, 69, was a family practice physician and a devoted member of Dor Hadash Congregation. He was remembered by his patients for his compassion and clinical skill.
“In the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh, he was the one to go to,” wrote former patient Michael Kerr on Instagram. “Basically before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, he was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest. He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always, always hugged us as we left his office.”
He was the “kindest, simplest, most joyful, gentle soul,” said Aviva Lubowsky, director of marketing and development for the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Pittsburgh, where Rabinowitz served as a board member since 1999. “He was always cheerful and really made time for the things that were important to him. One of the last times I saw him in Pittsburgh was on Shabbat Mishpatim, and he was leading a text study at Dor Hadash about interest-free lending and the Hebrew Free Loan Association. He was a generous member of our board, both with his time, and financially.”
Rabinowitz ran into danger during that fateful shooting to see if people needed help, according to a Facebook post by his nephew, Avishai Ostrin.
“I just learned a short while ago that although the shooter traveled within the building looking for victims, Uncle Jerry wasn’t killed in the basement of the building where the congregation was davening. He was shot outside the room,” Ostrin wrote. “Why? Because when he heard shots he ran outside to try and see if anyone was hurt and needed a doctor. That was Uncle Jerry, that’s just what he did.”
He was a resident of Edgewood.
Cecil Rosenthal and
Brothers David, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59, both of Squirrel Hill, were an integral part of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha since they were children. Both had developmental disabilities, and found a comfortable home at their congregation.
Known as “the boys” by their family because of their innocence, Cecil and David were always ready to lend a hand.
“They were always waiting at the door when I came in to see if they could help me,” recalled Schapiro. “Cecil liked to make copies and help me in the kitchen, and David would help getting tables and chairs set up. They were my boys, as they were for very many people.”
Berkun said that if he were to hypothetically ask the brothers where they would want to die, they would have answered, “Tree of Life.”
“They were so extraordinarily involved in the synagogue,” he said. “They were gracious to everyone. They were a fixture, and I can’t imagine the synagogue without them.”
David loved to joke around, said his brother-in-law, Michael Hirt, and loved anything having to do with the police and fire department.
Cecil, Hirt said, was “the consummate politician” and “socialite.”
“Cecil knew everyone in town,” he said. “And he knew everyone’s business.”
Both brothers were described by many friends as “joyful” and without a trace of hate within them.
“They were beautiful souls,” said Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, spiritual leader of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha. “They were blemish-free.”
Regardless of how early Myers arrived at the synagogue, “Cecil was always there” first.
“We thought of them as the two gentle giants,” said their sister Diane Hirt.
“They died like heroes because they lived like angels,” said family friend Austin Henry.
Squirrel Hill resident Stein, 71, had been named for his uncle, who died in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. With a warrior’s name, he was known for his calm demeanor.
“Dan was just a wonderful, gentle guy,” said Skip Grinberg, who recalled Stein from their days in the B’nai Israel Young Adult Congregation “about 30-40 years ago.”
More recently, Grinberg saw Stein at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. “We used to have a good kibbitz now and then.”
“He was a regular volunteer at the food pantry and he was a regular volunteer for my organization, American Friends of Israel War Disabled,” said Ronna Askin. “He and [his wife] Sharyn accompanied the Israeli veterans to Buffalo and Niagara Falls in 2013, and in 2011 they hosted a veteran in their home. They’re kind warm helpful people. He was a sweetheart. I’ve never seen him get mad and I’ve known him since he was a teenager.”
“You never saw him angry,” echoed Grinberg. “He was a pleasant man who was very active at New Light.”
Stein, a native of Homestead, was in sales, and when he retired, was a substitute teacher for Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Brian Cynamon noted Stein was “the president of the men’s club at New Light for life just about.”
Cynamon added that he and his wife were friendly with the Steins for 40 years.
“We did a number of things together,” said Cynamon. “We would go to picnics, we would go on New Light bus rides: they had two different ones that took members of New Light and other places locally to various synagogues that were no longer in operation.”
Stein was at “our wedding and at our son’s wedding,” said the friend. “Our wedding was 47 years ago, and our son’s wedding will be 14 years. He was a very good friend.”
A Mt. Washington realtor, Younger, 69, was among the backbones of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha.
“Irv was kind of one of the head ushers,” said Grinberg. “He gave out the honors at Rosh Hashanah.”
Grinberg speculated that his friend was among the victims because “he probably was there early to get everything in order for the service.”
“I knew him from the JCC,” said Bob Goldstein. “There was a group of about 12 to 15 of us who would go out to dinner the last Tuesday of every month.”
Goldstein remembered how his own late brother, Shelly, would speak with Younger about baseball.
Younger “listed and sold our house in Stanton Heights in the 1970s,” said Cynamon, who later worked for Younger as a sales associate in the late 1980s at Harris Realty. “We were very close forever.
“He would come to us for Passover seders, and I got him involved in doing Ward 14, District 36 voting” around 2011.
Younger and his wife “adopted two kids and we adopted one,” said Cynamon. “We finally achieved the same status — grandfathers — and we shared pictures together.”
Wax, 87, was known for his sense of humor.
“He was a gem of the old school,” Barry Werber said of the Squirrel Hill resident. Wax was always at services on Friday night, Saturday morning and Sunday morning, “and always quick with a joke.”
Though he spoke softly, Wax’s jokes would resonate, said those who knew him.
“Mel” had a joke for every holiday, said Bill Cartiff, a friend of close to 30 years.
His jokes were notorious, both for their content and delivery. Given Wax’s soft voice, the listener would have to lean in closely.
“He would pull you aside and he would whisper a joke, and then he would laugh,” and you would laugh and he would smile, said Cartiff.
Wax was a CPA by trade and “an avid record keeper of things,” said Cartiff. “Just today we went to pick up his things.”
Among some of the belongings, Cartiff and others discovered “a piece of paper where he recorded the filling up of gas in his car. We could tell he never let his car go beyond three-fourths of a tank without filling up.” The irony was that Wax “only drove from shul and back,” which required traveling from Forward Shady Apartments to New Light Congregation, a 1.2 mile trek.
The paper revealed that Wax’s recorded sums were about $4 or $6 and that he filled up every three months.
“I’m glad I saw that today,” said Cartiff. “That was really something.”
Werber called him “a gentleman in every manner.”
“His passions in his life were his synagogue, his family and the Pittsburgh Pirates,” added Cartiff. “He would comment about the Pirates being a perennial mediocrity. He didn’t necessarily feel they needed to spend the money; he was just happy to watch them play.”
Bernice Simon and
Bernice, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86, died together as congregants of Tree of Life, the same synagogue where they were married in 1956.
“When I was growing up on Chesterfield Road in Oakland, Sylvan lived across the street from me,” said Bob Goldstein. Bernice “was a real nice person.”
A Dec. 28, 1956 wedding announcement in the American Jewish Outlook recorded the details of the Saturday evening “candle light ceremony.” Rabbi Herman Hailperin officiated.
“The bride, given in marriage by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Morris Rothenberg of Farrell, Pa., wore a gown of ivory chantilly lace and tulle trimmed with sequins,” reads the announcement. “She carried a white Bible with white orchids and streamers of stephanotis.”
Heather Graham, a neighbor of the Simons told TribLive: “They held hands and they always smiled, and he would open the door for her, all those things that you want from another person.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org; Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.