Shooting victims remembered: ‘The loss is incalculable’
Pittsburgh — A day after the shooting that left 11 dead at a Pittsburgh synagogue, friends and family members recalled the victims – professors and accountants, dentists and beloved doctors serving their local community.
Officials released the names of all 11 victims during a news conference Sunday, all of them middle-aged or elderly. The victims of synagogue included a pair of brothers and a husband and wife. The oldest was 97.
Said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation: “The loss is incalculable.”
Here are some of their stories:
Melvin Wax: ‘A sweet, sweet guy’
Melvin Wax was the first to arrive at New Light Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood – and the last to leave.
Wax, who was in his late 80s, was among those killed when a gunman entered the synagogue Saturday and opened fire at Sabbath services. Fellow members of the congregation, which rented space in the lower level of the Tree of Life Synagogue, says Wax was a kind man and a pillar of the congregation, filling just about every role except cantor.
Myron Snider spoke late Saturday about his friend who would stay late to tell jokes with him. He said “Mel,” a retired accountant, was unfailingly generous.
“He was such a kind, kind person,” said Snider, chairman of the congregation’s cemetery committee. “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.
“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.
“I know a few of the people who are always there that early, and he is one of them,” she said.
Snider said Wax, who was slightly hard of hearing, was a pillar of the congregation, filling just about every role except cantor.
“He went Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, when there were Sunday services,” said Snider, a retired pharmacist. “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.”
Cohen recalled Wax, along with victims Richard Gottfried, 65, and Daniel Stein, 71, as “the heart, the religious heart” of New Light.
“They led the service. They maintained the Torah. They did what needed to be done with the rabbi to make our services happen.
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’
Former Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Law Claus remembered Jerry Rabinowitz, a 66-year-old personal physician and 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.
He said Rabinowitz had an uplifting demeanor and would provide sage advice.
“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,” Claus said. “He had a truly uplifting demeanor, and as a practicing physician he was among the very best.”
Joyce Fienberg: 'Magnificent, generous, caring'
Joyce Fienberg and her late husband, Stephen, were intellectual power houses, but those who knew them say they were the kind of people who used that intellect to help others.
Fienberg was among the 11 victims of a gunman who entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday and opened fire.
The 75-year-old spent most of her career at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, retiring in 2008 from her job as a researcher looking at learning in the classroom and in museums. She worked on several projects including studying the practices of highly effective teachers.
Dr. Gaea Leinhardt, who was Fienberg’s research partner for decades, said she is devastated by the murder of her colleague and friend.
“Joyce was a magnificent, generous, caring, and profoundly thoughtful human being,” she said.
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.”
Daniel Stein, 71, 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, helping the rabbi with anything and everything that needed to be done to hold services, Cohen, the congregation co-president, said.
Stein’s nephew Steven Halle told the Tribune-Review that 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.
Richard Gottfried 'Religious heart of congregation'
Richard Gottfried was a devoted member of the New Light Congregation, going to the synagogue every Saturday morning without fail.
Stephen Cohen, the co-president of New Light, says Gottfried and another member who was also killed Saturday were the “religious heart of our congregation.”
“They led the service, they maintained the Torah, they did what needed to be done with the rabbi to make services happen,” Cohen said.
The 65-year-old Gottfried was also preparing for a new chapter in his life. The dentist, who often did charity work seeing patients who could not afford dental care normally, was preparing to retire in the next few months.
Gottfried ran a dental office with his wife, Peg Durachko.
Cecil and David Rosenthal: 'Kind, good people'
Two brothers killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting were an inseparable, warm-hearted pair who never missed Saturday services.
That’s according to ACHIEVA, an organization that provides services to people with disabilities and had worked with Cecil and David Rosenthal for years.
ACHIEVA Vice President Chris Schopf recalls 59-year-old Cecil’s infectious laugh and 54-year-old David’s gentle spirit. Schopf says the two “looked out for one another” and were “kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around.”
Their sister is chief of staff to state Rep. Dan Frankel, who recalls seeing the brothers at Tree of Life whenever he went there.
He calls them “very sweet, gentle, caring men.”
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 were fixtures in 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, 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,” said Berkun, the rabbi emeritus at the temple, where the couple was among those massacred Saturday. 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’ death is 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.”
Rose Mallinger: Shooter's oldest victim
Former Tree of Life Rabbi Chuck Diamond said he worried about Rose Mallinger as soon as he heard about the deadly shooting at the synagogue.
The 97-year-old had almost unfailingly attended services for decades, he told The Washington Post, and was among the first to walk in.
“I feel a part of me died in that building,” Diamond said.
The oldest of those killed in Saturday’s shooting at Tree of Life, Brian Schreiber told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that her regularly saw her at services.
“Rose was really a fixture of the congregation,” Schreiber, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh, told the Post-Gazette.
Her daughter, Andrea Wedner, 61, was among the wounded, a family member said. She remains hospitalized.
Irving Younger: 'Never had an unkind word'
A neighbor in Pittburgh’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.
Associated Press reporter Allen G. Breed in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this story. Lauer reported from Philadelphia.