Remembering the 11 Slain in Synagogue Massacre: 'We've All Just Been Crying Endlessly'
Siblings, a husband and wife and a 97-year-old were among the 11 worshipers slain Saturday at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue
Siblings, a husband and wife and a grandfather of three were among the 11 worshipers — decent, generous and faithful-hearted — slain at Saturday morning services in a Pittsburgh synagogue, authorities said.
The victims’ identities were released by the medical examiner’s office after the next of kin had been notified of their deaths, allegedly at the hands of Robert Bowers, who is in custody.
Six others were wounded, including four responding police officers.
“All of us in the community are in a little bit of a state of shock,” says Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who lives in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, home to the Temple of Life synagogue where the shooting took place.
“As I walk out onto the street, walk out onto the sidewalk, I see a lot of my neighbors just coming out of their houses,” Fitzgerald tells PEOPLE, “walking around in really with just blank looks on their faces and just almost in a state of disbelief.”
This post will be updated as more is known about the deceased victims, who are:
Joyce Fienberg, 75
Tree of Life congregation member Judah Samet describes Fienberg as “a wonderful, wonderful woman” who became very active in the synagogue after the death of her husband.
“She was there every morning in the kitchen helping,” Samet says.
Fienberg was born and raised and got married in Toronto, according to a Facebook post by Rabbi Yael Splansky of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple.
In her post, Splansky reminded congregants that Fienberg’s confirmation photo is on the Temple’s wall of honor. “I walk past her every day.”
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Fienberg settled in Pittsburgh with her husband, Stephen, who also was from Holy Blossom Temple. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and died in 2016.
The Facebook page for The Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) at the University of Pittsburgh, where Fienberg worked for more than 25 years on various research projects, said this about her: “Joyce was a cherished friend for many in LRDC. For those who knew her in LRDC she was an engaging, elegant, and warm person.”
Richard Gottfried, 65
Gottfried and his wife, Margaret Durachko, “embodied love,” says an employee at the Catholic church she attended.
They were an interfaith couple who “embraced one another and our families in faith,” the employee says. “This is heartbreaking. Our hearts go out to her and all the other families. This was utterly senseless. I don’t understand. None of us do.”
A statement from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine says Gottfried was a dentist, as was Durachko.
“He had served as a volunteer faculty faculty member of our school and regularly provided free care in the Pittsburgh community to those in need,” the statement says.
Rose Mallinger, 97
Mallinger, a Squirrel Hill resident, was the oldest of the fatal victims.
Tree of Life Rabbi Emeritus Alvin Berkun tells PEOPLE Mallinger came to synagogue every week with her family. On the day she was killed, her daughter took her to synagogue and was non-fatally shot in the arm.
Adds Samet, “She didn’t use a cane, didn’t use a walker.”
Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi at Tree of Life, told NPR that age notwithstanding, Mallinger “was one of the younger ones among us, I have to tell you, in terms of her spirit. Rose was wonderful.”
That sentiment was echoed by Brian Schreiber, a synagogue member who is also president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, who told the Post-Gazette, “You’ve never met a more vivacious 97-year-old.”
According to Schreiber, Mallinger dedicated herself to her children and grandchildren. Lynette Lederman, a former Tree of Life president, told The Washington Post that Mallinger used to come to synagogue with her sister Sylvia, who is now deceased, and prepare breakfast for the congregants.
“She’s gone to the synagogue for a lifetime, no matter how many people are there,” Diamond told The Washington Post. “I feel a part of me died in that building.”
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Rabinowitz’s nephew, Avisha Osrin, posted on Facebook that Rabinowitz died while trying to help the wounded.
“You know how they say there are people who just lighten up a room? You know that cliché about people whose laugh is infectious? That was Uncle Jerry. It wasn’t a cliché. It was just his personality. His laughter, with his chest heaving up and down, with a huge smile on his face? That was Uncle Jerry.”
Rabinowitz worked as the personal doctor for Lawrence Claus, the former deputy district attorney in Allegheny County, for 30 years.
“Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz was more than just a physician for me and my family; for over three decades he was truly a trusted confidant and healer who 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,” Claus said in a brief statement released by a prosecutor’s spokesman.
“He had a truly uplifting demeanor, and as a practicing physician he was among the very best.”
Cecil Rosenthal, 59, brother to victim David Rosenthal
Cecil and his brother, David, were remembered as “extraordinary men” by Pennsylvania’s ACHIEVA, an agency which provides services for people with disabilities and their families.
Barton Schachter, a past president of the synagogue, tells PEOPLE, “They were special needs people and the synagogue embraced them. And they, in turn, reciprocated by being faithful and loyal and wonderful participants in our congregation. … It really was heartwarming to see the way they thrived in that setting.”
“Cecil and David had a love for life and for those around them,” ACHIEVA spokeswoman Lisa Razza said in a statement. “As long-standing recipients of ACHIEVA’s residential and employment services, they were as much a part of the ACHIEVA family as they were their beloved neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.”
Cecil had an “infectious” laugh according to ACHIEVA executive Chris Schopf, and he was inseparable from his younger brother.
David Rosenthal, 54, brother to victim Cecil Rosenthal
David, a kind and gentle spirit, had “a strong faith and respect for everyone around,” just like his brother, according to ACHIEVA.
And like Cecil, David never missed a Saturday at Tree of Life.
“If they were here they would tell you that is where they were supposed to be,” Schopf said.
Says Raye Coffey, a neighbor to the Rosenthal brothers as they grew up: “You wonder why this is happening — all this bitterness. It’s [a] very frightening time for our children and our grandchildren.”
Adds Schachter of the brothers, “If I were to arrange a scenario where I could have a discussion with them and ask them, ‘Where would you like to be on your last moments on Earth, I know they would have said, ‘At Tree of Life.’ ”
Bernice Simon, 84, wife to victim Sylvan Simon
Bernice and her husband, Sylvan, were “were lovely, good, kind, generous, compassionate, big-hearted, selfless people,” says Jo Stepaniak, their next-door neighbor of nearly 40 years.
“They gave to their community,” she says. “They would help anybody who needed it. Bernice always had a level head and was always very insightful and wise and gracious.”
Stepaniak last saw Bernice only days before the shooting but says their conversation was ordinary — typical, neighborly chit-chat.
“They would help anybody in need,” she says of the Simons. “They really didn’t think about themselves. They weren’t interested in appearances and prestige. They just lived what they believed, which was being kind to everybody and looking to the good in everybody.”
Sylvan Simon, 86, husband to victim Bernice Simon
Berkun tells PEOPLE, “They really were a couple joined at the hip and they did everything together,” adding that Sylvan was a veteran who will be buried in the veterans ceremony in the Pittsburgh area.
Stepaniak says she, like others, has grieved intensely at the deaths: “It’s just a tragedy and a travesty and horrific. It’s just unbelievable that something like this would occur in this country let alone this neighborhood. Everyone who knew Bernice and Sylvan is completely in shock and devastated.”
“We’ve all just been crying,” she says. “Endlessly. It’s unbelievable.”
Daniel Stein, 71
Schachter, the synagogue’s past president, tells PEOPLE, “Daniel Stein was someone you could count on for everything. He was an affable guy, always smiling.”
According to Schachter, Stein coached little league. “He will be sorely missed.”
Rabbi Emeritus Berkun tells PEOPLE Stein was “very, very devoted, very kind and very sweet,” describing him as “a wonderful, wonderful man.”
Stein was “a simple man and did not require much,” his son wrote on Facebook Sunday.
Stein had two great loves — his family and his faith — which his son remembered with a photo showing him after returning from synagogue, “which he loved,” and playing with his grandson, “which he loved even more.”
Melvin Wax, 87
Wax, soon to turn 88 and grandfather to three, “was an integral member of the congregation, an avid attendee, and part of the fabric of this community,” family friend Bill Cartiff tells PEOPLE. The grief of his death was fresh for his daughter, Jody Kart.
“Yesterday was just such a whirlwind, trying to get answers,” Cartiff says. “So today it’s still setting in for her.”
“Mel was a quiet, simple, honest, religious, kind, generous man,” Cartiff says. “And those are all very generic adjectives, but if you define all of those words the way Webster’s dictionary defines them, that was him.
“He was a little old man who was a retired CPA. He was just a quiet man, and he was hard of hearing and soft-spoken, so he couldn’t hear you well and it was hard to hear him. He was sweet and you maybe had to have a little bit of tolerance for his awful jokes, which he incessantly told.”
Irving Younger, 69
Schachter, the past president, tells PEOPLE that Younger “was friendly and always smiling. He was one of the core members of the congregation.”
Younger “was the kind of guy you count on to do things,” says Schachter, adding, “If you needed him, he’d be there.”
Younger, of Mount Washington, was described by neighbor Tina Prizner as “the most wonderful dad and grandpa,” reports the Pittsburgh Tribune.
In the mid 2000s, Younger was an assistant junior varsity baseball coach at Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, which he himself attended, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Schachter tells PEOPLE he also coached little league.
Younger greeted congregants when they entered the synagogue, says Schachter. “When this crazy man entered the building, Irving, if he didn’t see the guns, probably thought he would welcome this guy and direct him to a seat.”
The Case So Far
Bowers, the mass shooting suspect, is accused of attacking the Tree of Life about 9:50 a.m. Saturday, according to prosecutors, who have said he was armed with three handguns and an assault rifle.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady told reporters on Sunday that during the rampage, Bowers allegedly talked about genocide and wanting to kill Jewish people.
Bowers has been charged with 29 federal crimes, most of which carry a maximum penalty of death, Brady said: He faces 11 counts of murdering victims exercising their religious beliefs and 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder as well as seven additional charges in connection with his alleged attack on the responding police officers at the scene.
Bowers will make his first court appearance on Monday afternoon, according to authorities.
Authorities said Sunday morning that he remained in custody in the hospital following surgery after being wounded during the shooting.
“We are going to get through this,” Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said Sunday. “We are going to continue on and show what Pittsburgh is made of.”
Correction: This article originally incorrectly identified Rose Mallinger as a Holocaust survivor.
• With reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK