Loved ones, friends remember synagogue shooting victims
PITTSBURGH — They were professors and accountants, dentists and beloved doctors serving their local community.
A day after the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead, officials released the names of the victims. The oldest of them was 97. The youngest was 54. They included a pair of brothers and a husband and wife.
Said Stephen Cohen, co-president of New Light Congregation: “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 provides help with daily living, employment and other needs, and the organization had worked for years with Cecil, 59, and David, 54, who were among the 11 killed in Saturday’s deadly shooting. They lived semi-independently.
Cecil was a person who 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 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 that his buddy was also Jewish and soon invited him to Tree of Life. DeFelice joined him on a couple of occasions and could see that Cecil cherished his faith and the sense of community he found at temple.
“He was such a strong practitioner of his faith,” DeFelice said.
Emeritus Rabbi Alvin Berkun saw that, too, in Cecil, who according to his obituary was known as “the honorary mayor of Squirrel Hill,” and David, who worked at Goodwill Industries.
“They really found a home at the synagogue, and people reciprocated,” he said.
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.”
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 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 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 a few minutes after Sabbath services began. Fellow members of the congregation, which rented space in the lower level of the Tree of Life Synagogue, said Wax was a kind man and a pillar of the congregation, filling just about every role except cantor.
“He was a gem. He was a gentleman,” recalled fellow congregant Barry Werber on Sunday. “There was always a smile on his face.”
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 and a pillar of the congregation.
“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.
“I know a few of the people who are always there that early, and he is one of them,” she said.
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 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. “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, a family practitioner at UPMC Shadyside, was remembered by UPMC as one of its “kindest physicians.” The hospital said in a statement that “the UPMC family, in particular UPMC Shadyside, 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,” Tami Minnier, UPMC chief quality officer, wrote in a statement on Twitter.
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 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 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 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.
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 he 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.
RICHARD GOTTFRIED: READYING FOR RETIREMENT
Richard Gottfried was preparing for a new chapter in his life.
Gottfried ran a dental office with his wife and practice partner Margaret “Peg” Durachko Gottfried. He and his wife met at the University of Pittsburgh as dental students, according to the Washington Post, and opened their practice together in 1984.
Gottfried, who often did charity work seeing 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.