Community says goodbye to last of Tree of Life victims
Mallinger funeral invites reminiscences, laughter and the passing of a prayer
The Friday afternoon funeral for Rose Mallinger, 97, marked the final service and burial for the 11 congregants killed Oct. 27 in the attack at the building housing Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, New Light Congregation and Congregation Dor Hadash. Mallinger, the oldest of the victims, was remembered by spiritual leaders, politicians and family members at the Nov. 2 ceremony as a woman of kindness, commitment and spirit. Nearly 1,000 people attended the service at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
“I read every single word that was written about her in the last days and I feel like I know her so well,” said Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul general in New York. “She is a perfect reflection of this whole community, the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and maybe the entire Pittsburgh community: old but young,” perseverant and filled with “a joy of life.”
Rabbi Alvin Berkun, Tree of Life’s rabbi emeritus, knew Mallinger for 35 years. He recalled her dedication to the congregation, saying, “How poignant that she has to die in a place that she loved so thoroughly and was so much a part of her being.”
Temple David’s Rabbi Barbara Symons said Mallinger’s dedication was evident in her family.
“This family stays together like a bouquet,” said the Monroeville-based rabbi. “They say that the World to Come looks a lot like the Garden of Eden. And this I know, next to the tree of life there is a beautiful rose. May her memory be for a blessing.”
While the tributes extolled a woman who placed family first and ensured its connection to the Tree of Life congregation, several moments elicited much-appreciated humor. After observing Rodef Shalom’s pews packed by those eager to honor his grandmother, Andrew Mallinger remarked, “I can already hear our Bubbie, right next to her husband, our Zaydie, saying how hard it was to find parking.”
“Rose had spunk,” said Tree of Life’s Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers. “She insisted on being on time so she was ready early. There was no such thing as Jewish standard time.”
Myers further painted a picture of a strong woman.
Rose “lifted two-pound weights to keep in shape,” he said. She clipped coupons for dinner options and completed word searches to stay sharp. “Earlier today [she] would have been at the hair salon and then Panera, and she never refused a good dessert.”
Her cane, continued Myers, had many uses. It could be used for chasing away squirrels, cleaning a porch or even enabling a nonagenarian to move faster than her descendants. Multiple speakers remarked about her affinity for Tree of Life.
“The Tree of Life was her second home … that is where she raised her children and her grandchildren,” said grandson Andrew. “This is where she had her friends and social groups.
“This is where she volunteered and organized as much as she possibly could. This is where she felt most like herself, obviously besides the chair on her porch.”
As critical as she was to Tree of Life, she was also “the pillar of our family,” said another grandson, Steven Wedner, the oldest of Mallinger’s grandchildren.
Being first, Wedner enjoyed certain treats, like “numerous breakfasts at Pamela’s, eating her famous stuffed cabbage and playing whiffle ball in the front yard.”
But the greatest treasure, he said, was “seeing her hold my newborn daughter in her arms, which was her first great-grandchild.”
Prior to concluding the service, Myers remarked that Mallinger possessed a “singular responsibility on Shabbat morning.”
At a designated time each week, she led the congregation in the prayer for peace.
“We just cannot understand how a 97-year-old woman who led the prayer for peace can meet such a violent death,” said Myers.
Then, turning to her daughter, Andrea, who was able to attend Friday’s service despite a hospitalization due to sustained gunfire in last Saturday’s attack, Myers announced, “Andrea, when you are ready and only when you are ready, on behalf of the Tree of Life, I hereby bequeath to you the honor of reading your mother’s prayer for peace.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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