They were the synagogue’s most faithful.
Two brothers who had attended services each week since boyhood and now, in their 50s, handed out hugs and hellos at Tree of Life’s front entrance. The local doctor who helped set up Dor Hadash’s weekly meetings and led its Torah studies. An 88-year-old retired accountant known to attend New Light Congregation’s services each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
When the gunman entered on Saturday, his bullets found members of each of the three congregations that shared this space in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill.
The names of those killed, released by authorities Sunday, amount to a roster of “the regulars.” Those slain were Tree of Life’s beating heart, as much fixtures of this synagogue as the fading pews.
Rose Mallinger, 97, was said to have barely missed a service in decades, for years volunteering to prepare breakfast for her fellow congregants. Joyce Fienberg, 75, enthusiastically took turns as the front-door greeter. Irving Younger, 69, sat in the back and handed out prayer books to those sneaking in late.
Like most houses of worship, Tree of Life kept open doors, offering shelter from the winds and the rain, refuge from perils and snares of the outside world. Within its walls, members found fellowship and built community.
All were free to join: from the weekly faithful to the long-absent family member to the unknown traveler.
But on Saturday, it was an enemy who entered the open door.
Police have said Robert Bowers, who has been charged in the shooting, wanted “to kill Jews.” Social media postings in Bowers’s name show he feared the foreign refugees he believed these worshipers would help find safe harbor here.
So Bowers grabbed his guns and shouted in anger as he entered Tree of Life, squeezing the trigger he hoped would put out its pulse.
By the time the shooting had stopped, 11 of the faithful were dead, slaughtered in the shelter of their sanctuary.
Joyce Fienberg, 75
There was a long-standing joke at Gaea Leinhardt’s University of Pittsburgh research center: If she needed to remember something — even “small bits of information that I might need someday” — she would mention it to her research assistant, Joyce Fienberg. Without fail, Fienberg would be able to recall it, even years later.
“She was just a magnificently caring, generous and thoughtful human being,” Leinhardt said. “She never forgot anyone’s birthday. She was always available for whatever one might need.”
Despite Fienberg’s title, Leinhardt said their working relationship was much more collegial, like a partnership, and that she considered Fienberg her best friend. They met in 1968 and worked together for at least 25 years — meeting almost daily in adjacent offices — researching how children and teachers learn. Whenever Fienberg observed a classroom, teachers would immediately feel at ease in her presence.
“She was very intellectual,” Leinhardt said. “But also people would just always open up to her in a very easy way. She was an ideal observer.”
Fienberg, originally from Canada, created a warm and rich community for herself in Pittsburgh, raising a family and eventually becoming “the ideal grandmother,” Leinhardt said. She adored her two sons, Howard and Anthony, and was deeply active in the Tree of Life congregation, especially after her husband died in 2016.
Mel Solomon, a fellow congregant and Squirrel Hill resident, remembers Fienberg standing alongside him years ago at the Jewish Community Center as they sent their sons away to summer camp. In recent years, she could be seen greeting people at the synagogue doors.
“I picture her as someone who was passionate about resuscitating the Tree of Life and bringing it back to a point where it would be sustainable for future generations, membership-wise and financially,” Solomon said. “She was a people person, always smiling and with a extended hand.”
When news of the shooting broke Saturday, Leinhardt was in the United Kingdom. She immediately tried calling and emailing Fienberg, knowing she probably would have been at the morning service.
“I said, ‘Tell me you’re okay. Tell me you’re okay,’ “ Leinhardt said.
When her best friend didn’t respond after several hours, she said she began fearing the worst.
“I just can’t say how terribly sad I am that this person isn’t in the world anymore,” Leinhardt said.
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Richard Gottfried, 65
Like his father and grandfather, Richard Gottfried took his faith seriously, regularly attending Saturday services as a member of the New Light Congregation.
But when Gottfried fell in love in the late 1970s, it was with a practicing Catholic. Peg Durachko was a fellow dental student at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1980, the year he graduated, they married.
Gottfried and Durachko built a successful dental practice together, opening in 1984. Even if the couple did not share a faith, they seemed to share a sense of purpose, extending their skills and care to the city’s neediest. Both volunteered at Catholic Charities’ free dental clinic. The pair counseled soon-to-be married couples at St. Athanasius Parish, a Catholic Church near their home.
“I think it was part of what made them such an unusual and extraordinary couple. They respect and admired each other’s tradition,” said Susan Friedberg Kalson, chief executive of Squirrel Hill Health Center, where Gottfried and Durachko worked as part-time dentists. The center serves refugees, immigrants and other underserved community members.
During Catholic and Jewish holidays, the couple celebrated with homemade foods that they brought and shared to staffers at the health center, Kalson said.
Even while recovering from a fall last winter that required surgery, Gottfried wanted to get back to work, Kalson said.
“He was just determined to get back in here and see his patients again,” Kalson said. “That says it all to me. It wasn’t about him; it was what he can do for others.”
The couple had just celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary and had planned to wind down the practice and retire soon. Gottfried, an avid athlete, was looking forward to resuming running. He had participated in the Great Race, which has a route winding through Squirrel Hill, 28 times. Gottfried was also growing closer to his faith, attending services with greater frequency.
“He died doing what he liked to do most,” said Don Salvin, Gottfried’s brother-in-law.
— Moriah Balingit and Kristine PhillipsBack to top Read more
Rose Mallinger, 97
When Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi at Tree of Life, heard that a gunman had opened fire inside the synagogue, Rose Mallinger was among the first he worried about. The petite 97-year-old who he regularly saw walking in the neighborhood or grocery shopping had attended service for decades, almost without fail. She was always among the first to arrive.
“She was a synagogue-goer, and not everybody is. She’s gone to the synagogue for a lifetime, no matter how many people are there,” Diamond said.
Diamond, 63, has known Mallinger for years. He said he and Mallinger’s son went through kindergarten and high school together.
“I feel a part of me died in that building,” he said.
When Diamond was rabbi, he had a nickname for Mallinger and another congregant whose name also starts with an “R.”
“I used to call Ray and Rose my RR,” he said. “I think of them, and a smile comes to my face.”
Lynette Lederman, a former president of Tree of Life, said Mallinger’s daughter had been taking her to the synagogue every week. The daughter was shot in the arm, Lederman and Diamond said.
Years ago, Mallinger used to come to the synagogue with her sister, Sylvia, now deceased. The sisters were usually the ones preparing breakfast for the congregants, Lederman said.
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Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Jerry Rabinowitz’s trademark is his bow tie, which he always wore with a big smile. At family gatherings, he was known for having the loudest laugh, said Avishai Ostrin, his nephew from Israel. They met in the mid-1990s, when Rabinowitz married Ostrin’s aunt, Miri. Years ago, Ostrin’s younger brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Rabinowitz, who was a doctor, was among the first to call Ostrin’s parents to make sure that their son was alright and that he was receiving adequate care.
Jerry had been a doctor in Pittsburgh for decades. He loved his patients, and his patients loved him, those who knew him said. He chose to keep an independent practice, which gave him freedom to spend as much time as needed with his patients.
During the HIV crisis in the 1990s, Jerry Rabinowitz was known for keeping those infected with the virus alive the longest, Michael Kerr, an HIV patient, wrote on Facebook. He held his patients’ hands without gloves. He hugged them as they left his office.
“Thank you Dr. Rabinowitz for having always been there during the most terrifying and frightening time of my life,” Kerr wrote.
Beth Chaitlin, 65, said Rabinowitz had been her doctor since the late 1980s. Even when he was busy, Rabinowitz was one of the few doctors who take time to listen, understand and empathize. He even took part in a 150-mile bike ride for multiple sclerosis.
“He makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room, and that he has all the time in the world for you … He makes sure he has all the information right,” Chaitlin said.
Lately, however, Rabinowitz felt he had been so bogged down with electronic medical records that he had not had enough time to take care of his patients, said Anna Boswell-Levy, a friend of Rabinowitz and a rabbi at a synagogue in Yardley, Pa.
“He had been looking to retire for some years now,” Boswell-Levy said.
Rabinowitz and his wife did not have children, so they poured out all of their love and attention on their extended family, their community, their synagogue and their five cats, Boswell-Levy said.
“Jerry and Miri just did everything for this synagogue. They were essential, they were core, to this community,” Boswell-Levy, 42, said. “They were kind of like the welcoming committee.”
Jerry, in particular, was always helping to set up services and lead them. He led Torah studies and organized meetings, Boswell-Levy said. Jerry and his wife were members of the Dor Hadash Congregation, which held services in the same building as Tree of Life. The congregation does not have a rabbi, and community members led services themselves. Jerry, those who knew him said, emerged as among the strongest leaders.
“At the end of every service, we say Kaddish (the Jewish mourners prayer). Jerry would always insist on saying it for individuals who may not have had anyone to say it for them,” said Judy Grumet, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh who was in the same congregation and met Jerry at medical school 35 years ago.
Outside his practice and his faith, Rabinowitz loved to cook and host dinners with his wife at their home. For example, Boswell-Levy said, the couple often organized a dinner party every time she visited.
“He’s the most hospitable kind of person that would see to your comfort,” Boswell-Levy said of Jerry, whom she had known for 12 years and who was much older but treated her like an equal.
Rabinowitz and his wife were soulmates, said those who know them.
“They still, after many years of marriage, look at each other with the kind of eyes that newlyweds look at each other with,” Chaitlin said.
Miri Rabinowitz declined to be interviewed.
“There is no sense to this,” Chaitlin said. “If your husband suffers from a heart attack, that’s something you can comprehend. But going to a synagogue and getting shot is not something anyone can understand.”
— Kristine Phillips, Kellie B. Gormly and Gabriel PogrundBack to top Read more
Cecil Rosenthal and David Rosenthal, 59 and 54
When people showed up for services at Tree of Life, it was often Cecil Rosenthal who would greet them, offering a warm hello, a smile and sometimes a joke. “Cecil was this big man, that just loved to give bear hugs. He was the friendliest person you've ever met,” said Gladys Margolis, who taught Sunday school at Tree of Life for 16 years.
Cecil and his brother David were fixtures at the synagogue, attending services nearly every Saturday for much of their lives. They had been going to Tree of Life since they were young boys, said Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi.
Diamond, 63, said the brothers’ grandfather took them to the synagogue when they were children.
“They would be there every week, every service, every program,” Diamond said.
The brothers had an intellectual disability and lived together in an adult group home. When the synagogue held special services for adults with disabilities, Cecil and David would serve as the honorary chairs, said Howard Elson, who was president of Tree of Life about 12 years ago.
Elson recalled a joke he and Cecil shared. Elson would pass Cecil, and Cecil would point at him and say, “You’re in trouble. I’m telling the rabbi on you.”
“No,” Elson would reply. “You’re in trouble.”
Then the two men would break down in laughter.
Anita Kornblit taught Sunday school at Tree of Life for more than 30 years, including to a class of adults with intellectual disabilities. Cecil was an enthusiastic participant and loved the art projects. When he was particularly proud of a piece of work, he would gift it to Kornblit.
When Diamond was the rabbi, Cecil’s job during services was to carry the Torah.
“He would do so so proudly,” Diamond said.
ACHIEVA, a social services agency that worked with the two men, said the brothers were a beloved pair.
“Cecil’s laugh was infectious. David was so kind and had such a gentle spirit,” said Chris Schopf of ACHIEVA.
“Together, they looked out for one another,” Schopf added. “They were inseparable.”
— Moriah Balingit and Kristine PhillipsBack to top Read more
Bernice Simon and Sylvan Simon, 84 and 86
Neighbors of Bernice and Sylvan Simon remember them as a sweet, kind couple. They often saw Sylvan Simon opening the door for his wife.
Heather Graham, 39, said she and her boyfriend used to shovel snow for the Simons.
"They were older, so we wanted to be sure they would be okay and not have to worry about shoveling," Graham said.
She said Bernice often baked cranberry orange bread and gave it to them with a thank-you note.
On Saturday morning, the Simons waved at Graham’s boyfriend as they left for their synagogue. It was the last time their neighbors saw them alive.
“I don't have words," said Reuben Coleman, 44, another neighbor. “It's just senseless. They were good people."
The Simon family requested privacy at this time.
— Kellie B. GormlyBack to top Read more
Daniel Stein, 71
When Stephen Halle lost his father in September, he expected to do the grim work of cleaning out the older man’s Florida condo alone and moving his mother’s things up to Pittsburgh alone. But then his 71-year-old uncle, Daniel Stein, offered to join him. For days, the two men worked side by side to pack up the condo. It was emblematic, Halle said, of Stein’s generosity and kindness.
Halle said Stein, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, was retired but had held a number of jobs, including as a salesman, at grocery stores and as a substitute teacher.
Stein was a member of the New Light Congregation, which held services in the same building as Tree of Life. He was heavily involved with the synagogue, having been president and on the board of directors. Most recently, he was president of the Men’s Club, said Halle.
Stein’s son Joe posted a photo of his father on Facebook on Sunday. It showed him sitting down in a white shirt and tie — he had just come from services — holding his grandson Henry.
“My dad was a simple man and did not require much,” Joe Stein wrote in the Facebook post. “In the picture below he was having a great day doing two things he loved very much. He had just finished coming from synagogue, which he loved, and then got to play with his grandson which he loved even more!”
Anita Kornblit, who taught Sunday school at Tree of Life for more than 30 years, said she saw Klein at a party recently. He was gushing about how thrilled he was to be a new grandfather.
“He kept talking about his grandson, just how wonderful it was to be a grandparent,” Kornblit said.
— Moriah BalingitBack to top Read more
Melvin Wax, 87
Melvin Wax was a veritable fixture at the Tree of Life synagogue as a member of the New Light Congregation, according to his friend and fellow congregant Myron Snider.
“He went Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, when there were Sunday services,” Snider told the Associated Press. “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.”
Snider remembered Wax, a retired accountant, for his thoughtfulness and generosity — and for their tradition of trading jokes with each other at the end of each service.
“He was such a kind, kind person,” Snider told the AP. “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.”
At the Forward Shady Apartments, where Wax lived, there was a table in the lobby Sunday with a photo of Wax and a sign saying “Rest in peace, dear friend and lover of democracy.” An accompanying note from the management said he lived there for nine years.
Neighbors remembered Wax as a quiet, sweet man who would tip his head in a gentlemanly gesture to say goodbye.
“We would always stop and say hi to each other,’” said neighbor Ellen Gunnell, 71, who recalled that Wax would walk around the halls “with a spring to his step” for exercise.
“He never didn’t have a smile on his face,” she said.
— Amy B Wang and Kellie B. GormlyBack to top Read more
Irving Younger, 69
When the gunman walked inside the Tree of Life, Irving would have been in the hallway, just coming in. Or he would have been sitting in the back, giving prayer books to people as they arrived, said Chuck Diamond, a former rabbi at Tree of Life.
“Knowing him, he probably helped with whatever they needed,” said Toby Neufeld, who taught at the synagogue's religious school for about 30 years.
Diamond, 63, said he was close friends with Younger. They loved to exchange jokes, mostly jokes about Jews making fun of themselves. They shared a love of sports and politics. They talked about the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they aired their different views on politics.
They also taught classes on current events at the local community center.
Diamond said he saw Younger in one of those classes just last week. He shared pictures of his newborn grandchild with Diamond.
“He had two grandchildren in California he adored,” Neufeld said. “He constantly showed us pictures of the kids and what they were doing.”
Younger was a Realtor and was president of the neighborhood business association, according to a 1991 article from the Pittsburgh Press.
— Kristine Phillips and Amy B WangBack to top Read more
Alice Crites and Julie Tate contributed to this report
Allegheny County authorities previously released the incorrect age for Melvin Wax. This story has been updated to reflect the correct information. Wax was 87.
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