Community honors synagogue shooting victims

A tight-knit community grapples with loss as it remembers the victims in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting.

Posted: Oct 29, 2018 9:34 AM
Updated: Oct 29, 2018 10:09 AM

A primary care physician loved by his community. Two devoted and welcoming brothers. A "vibrant" 97-year-old with "a lot of years left."

All were among the 11 people whose lives abruptly ended on Saturday when a gunman stormed the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh's historic Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

On Sunday, Karl Williams, Allegheny County's chief medical examiner, released the victims' identities in a news conference.

"To the victims' families, to the victims' friends, we're here as a community of one for you," said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. "We will be here to help you through this horrific episode. We'll get through this darkest day of Pittsburgh's history by working together."

Here are the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting:

Melvin Wax

Melvin Wax's sister, Bonnie Wax, told CNN affiliate WTAE that the 88-year was a wonderful person, "always in a good mood, always full of jokes."

"The synagogue for him was very important. We always used to kid with him that you should have been a rabbi," she said, explaining that her brother was well-versed in reciting Jewish prayer.

He usually attended synagogue every Friday night and Saturday morning, she said.

"He would always be one of the first ones. He'd always be early, so when I heard this happened, I kind of said to myself, 'Ugh,'" his sister said. "I was hoping it wasn't Melvin, and unfortunately, he was one of the victims."

Irving Younger

Irving Younger of Pittsburgh's Mount Washington neighborhood was known for his "big smile, big handshake and a wave of white hair," a friend said.

The charismatic 69-year-old was a greeter at Tree of Life synagogue, which he had been frequenting for at least 10 years, his pal and former Tree of Life president Barton Schachter told CNN.

"He was a guy that when you walked in, he was the first person that would meet you and help you find a seat," Schachter said. "He liked to make sure you knew where you were in the prayer book. It was his duty. He felt responsible. He felt like his role was to help serve."

A former real estate agent, Younger used to have an office on one of Squirrel Hill's main thoroughfares.

"He was the kind of guy who walked up and down the street, shook everybody's hand and said hello," Schachter said.

More recently, he enjoyed spending his time at one of the sidewalk tables in front of a local coffee shop, where he appointed himself as greeter, he said.

Meryl Ainsman also described Younger as a kind man. Years ago, Younger coached her son, who is now 30, in Little League, she said.

Jerry Rabinowitz

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, came from Edgewood Borough, Pennsylvania, and was a primary care physician in the area for many years, some of his patients told CNN.

His nephew, Avishai Ostrin, shared a photo on Facebook of his uncle, who he said always wore a bowtie that "made people smile" and "made his patients more at ease."

"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," he wrote. "It wasn't a cliché. It was just his personality."

Ostrin said if there was a message his uncle would want everyone to take from the tragedy, "it would be a message of love, unity, and of the strength and resilience of the Jewish people."

Susan Blackman knew Rabinowitz for at least 35 years, she told CNN. He was her family doctor and cared for her three children. She went to see Rabinowitz every quarter.

"He was like a member of the family, and a member of the extended family," she said. "Like somebody you know that's always part of your community. ... Dr. Jerry was just somebody who, when you see him, your eyes light up."

"I can't imagine the world without him," she said.

Brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal

Cecil and David Rosenthal, 59 and 54, were from Squirrel Hill.

According to their obituaries posted by the Ralph Schugar Chapel, Cecil was a devoted Tree of Life congregant. David worked for Goodwill Industries, and was a hard worker who was recognized for his commitment a number of times.

ACHIEVA, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that provides support for people with disabilities, posted a statement about the Rosenthal brothers, calling them "two well-respected members of our community' and "extraordinary men."

"Cecil's laugh was infectious. David was so kind and had such a gentle spirit. Together, they looked out for one another," said Chris Schopf, a vice president for residential support at ACHIEVA. "They were inseparable. Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around."

The brothers always sat in the back of the temple and greeted people as they came in to worship, according to Suzan Hauptman, who told CNN she grew up at Tree of Life synagogue.

"They were like the ambassadors because they were always there," she said. "And they will always be there in our hearts."

Laura Berman, the cantor of Temple Sinai, said Cecil was a "beautiful man" and a "sweet, gentle soul."

"The kindest soul you would ever meet," she said. "A smiling face. He was one of those embodiments of the community. Just open, warm, smiling, wanting to help and just in his beautiful simplicity. That's who he was."

Rose Mallinger

Rose Mallinger, a 97-year-old from Squirrel Hill, was the "sweetest, lovely lady," said Robin Friedman, who told CNN that Mallinger was a secretary in her school's office growing up.

Mallinger regularly attended the synagogue with her daughter, Friedman said, and likely knew everyone there. She always offered a friendly greeting, a hug and a smile.

Despite her age, Mallinger was "spry" and "vibrant," Friedman said.

"She had a lot of years left."

Elisa Schwartz, a family member, remembered Mallinger -- her grandmother's cousin -- in a tribute on her Facebook page, calling the 97-year-old "one of the matriarchs of the family."

Schwartz encouraged people to donate blood to help survivors.

Bernice and Sylvan Simon

The Simons, from Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, died together in the same synagogue where they wed more than 60 years ago.

They were "kind, generous and good-hearted individuals," according to their neighbor, Jo Stepaniak.

She lived next to 84-year-old Bernice and 86-year-old Sylvan for nearly 40 years, she said, and they were the "sweetest people you could imagine.

"They wanted to give back to people and be kind," Stepaniak said, adding that the Simons always tried to help out in their small neighborhood and in the Jewish community.

"They were loving and giving and kind," she said, "gracious and dignified."

According to a 1956 wedding announcement in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the couple was married at the Tree of Life synagogue.

"The bride ... wore a gown of ivory chantilly lace and tulle trimmed with sequins. She carried a white Bible with white orchids and streamers of stephanotis," the announcement said.

Daniel Stein

Daniel Stein, 71, was loved by everyone, his nephew said.

"He was a great guy," Halle said. "He was a fun guy, he had a dry sense of humor and everybody loved him."

Halle said he and his family were shocked by his uncle's sudden death at the synagogue, where Stein went every Saturday.

The Squirrel Hill resident was retired, his nephew told CNN affiliate WPXI.

In a post on Facebook, Stein's son wrote that Saturday was "the worst day of my life."

"My mom, sister and I are absolutely devastated and crushed!" Joe Stein wrote on his Facebook page. "Our lives now are going to have to take a different path, one that we thought would not happen for a long time."

Joe Stein said his father was a "simple man" who "did not require much."

Joyce Fienberg

Joyce Fienberg, 75, was a former research specialist at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, the center said on its Facebook page, calling her a "cherished friend" and "an engaging, elegant, and warm person."

Fienberg's husband Stephen, an acclaimed statistician, passed away two years ago after battling cancer, according to Carnegie Mellon University, where he taught for 36 years.

Jason Connor, one of Stephen's former Ph.D. students, told CNN the Fienbergs treated Stephen's students like family. Joyce Fienberg would welcome the students into their lives and would continue to send them cards long after they'd left Carnegie Mellon, Connor said.

She was also a grandmother, and has two sons, Connor told CNN.

"Everyone says this, but she really was an enormously caring person," Connor said. "She was a very petite woman but lit up a room with her huge personality. We weren't just welcome in the classroom, but into their home."

Fienberg grew up at the Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, the temple said on its Facebook page. She lived in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood, not far from Squirrel Hill. She and Stephen were married at the temple, where her confirmation class photo still hangs on the wall.

Richard Gottfried

Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township, Pennsylvania, opened a dental practice together with his wife, Peg Durachko, in 1984, according to the practice's website.

In 1996, the couple joined the local Discovery Study Club, a local group that's part of an international organization of dentists and specialists who offer educational lectures and workshops to encourage excellence in dentistry, the site said.

Gottfried, who was Jewish, and Durachko, who is Catholic, helped prepare other couples for marriage through the St. Athanasius church.

Patrick Mannarino, the North Hills School District superintendent, sent out a note to the district that said Gottfried had been the district's dentist for a long time. He and his wife were "a fixture in the lives of those in our community," Mannarino said.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragedy," he added, "and our thoughts and condolences go out to all of those affected including Dr. Durachko and her loved ones."

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