Remembering the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre amid calls for unity

The victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh. Hy’d

The final dreadful toll from the Tree of Life synagogue massacre is 11 holy souls. Here are their names and stories:

David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59

The two brothers were very involved in the local Jewish community.

“Neither man had one ounce of hate in their hearts,” read a tweet by a synagogue member. “I grieve for these men. They will be missed.”

The brothers lived in a community home run by ACHIEVA,which provides residential and employment services for adults with intellectual disabilities. They were roommates often were the first faces that congregants saw as they arrived for services.

“They loved life. They loved their community,” said Chris Schopf, vice president of Residential Supports at ACHIEVA. “They spent a lot of time at the Tree of Life, never missing a Saturday. If they were here, they would tell you that is where they were supposed to be.”

Bernice Simon, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86

The Simons were married at the Tree of Life Congregation in 1956 in a candlelight ceremony, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

“They held hands and they always smiled and he would open the door for her, all those things that you want from another person,” neighbor Heather Graham told the newspaper. “They were really generous and nice to everybody. It’s just horrific.”

Sylvan was a retired accountant. Bernice was a former nurse.

Daniel Stein, 71

Stein once served as president of the New Light Congregation, one of the three congregations that were housed in the synagogue building, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. He recently became a grandfather for the first time, according to local reports.

Daniel Stein Hy’d

In a post on Facebook, his son Joel posted a photo of Stein and his grandson. “My dad was a simple man and did not require much. In the picture below he was having a great day doing the two things he loved very much. He had just finished coming from synagogue, which he loved, amd then got to play with his grandson, which he loved even more!”

“He was always willing to help anybody,” said his nephew, Steven Halle. “He was somebody that everybody liked, very dry sense of humor and recently had a grandson who loved him.”

His wife, Sharyn, is the vice chair of membership of the local chapter of Hadassah.

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66

Rabinowitz was a physician and was involved in the Reconstructionist congregation, Dor Hadash, that met in the building, at one time serving as its president.

“Jerry was one of the backbones of the congregation,” Laura Horowitz, a congregant, who wept when she read his name, told JTA. “He blows — he blew — the shofar on Yom Kippur.”

A former patient recalled that in the early days of the AIDS crisis, Rabinowitz was among a handful of doctors treating patients with dignity and respect.

“Basically before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, he was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest,” Michael Kerr recalled on Facebook. “He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always always hugged us as we left his office.”

Richard Gottfried, 65

A popular local dentist, Gottfried was active in New Light Congregation. The Tribune-Review reported that Richard and his wife, Margaret Durachko, volunteered with the Catholic Charities Free Dental Clinic. The couple had recently celebrated their 38th anniversary and were planning to retire soon, according to the Washington Post.

Gottfried’s nephew honored his uncle in a tweet.

“Today I lost an important person in my life,” Jacob Gottfried wrote. “My uncle was murdered doing what he loved, praying to G-D. I don’t want to live in a world where I must fear to live as a Jew. I thank everyone in BBYO for being so supportive and I hope this never happens again! #PittsburghStrong.”

Joyce Fienberg, 75

Fienberg was a native of Toronto, Canada, and lived in several American cities before settling in Pittsburgh, where her husband, Stephen, was professor emeritus at Carnegie Mellon University before his death in December 2016, Toronto City News reported. She retired in 2008 as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, which looks at learning in the classroom and in museums. Her daughter-in-law, Marney Fienberg, is co-president of Hadassah North Virginia.

Rose Mallinger, 97

Though many news reports circulated that Rose Mallinger was a Holocaust survivor, a family friend tweeted that she was not. Mallinger’s great-niece told her friend that her aunt was “the most caring gentle loving woman.” The retired school secretary had children and three grandchildren. Her daughter, Andrea Wedner, 61, was among those wounded in the attack and is expected to recover, the Post-Gazette reported.

(r) Rose Malinger, 97, Hy’d

“She was a synagogue-goer, and not everybody is,” a former Tree of Life rabbi, Chuck Diamond, told The Washington Post about Mallinger. “She’s gone to the synagogue for a lifetime, no matter how many people are there. I feel a part of me died in that building.”

Melvin Wax, 88

Wax, a retired accountant and a grandfather, was described by fellow congregants as a “pillar” of the congregation, The Associated Press reported. He was a leader of Or Chadash, or New Light Congregation, which moved into the Tree of Life building a year ago after his congregation, made up mostly older members, could no longer afford its own synagogue building. He reportedly was leading his congregation’s services at the time of the attack.

Myron Snider, chairman of the congregation’s cemetery committee, described his friend as generous and kind. Snider said he and Wax shared mostly clean jokes at the end of each service.

Dennis Fishman, whose parents were friends with Wax, described him as empathetic and attentive.

“He was a quiet man, not very assertive but always there, often smiling,” Fishman said. “He had a real light-up-the-room kind of smile, with an eye that let you know he was paying attention to what made you happy and made you sad.”

Irving Younger, 69

Younger was a father and grandfather who had recently undergone surgery, his neighbor told the Post-Gazette.

“He was a really nice guy,” Jonathan Voye told the newspaper.

The Tribune-Review reported that Younger once owned a small business and was a youth baseball coach.

And let us not forget the wounded and keep them in our prayers:

Among the injured, Daniel Leger, 70, a retired nurse and local hospital chaplain, suffered critical injuries in his chest, his brother, Paul, told the Tribune-Review. Leger had two surgeries on Saturday and remains in critical condition, according to reports. Leger, who has a wife and two sons, was scheduled to lead a service Saturday morning at Tree of Life.

What a huge loss to the families, the community and to the entire Jewish nation. May their memories be for a blessing and may Hashem avenge their blood.

Unfortunately some interested parties have seen this tragedy as an opportunity for politicking and divisiveness.

For example the Haaretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer tweeted this disgusting tweet:


The Education Minister [and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett] is on his way to comfort the families of the victims of the massacre, but belongs to a value system opposite to theirs. My hand shakes as I write this, but in some ways his world is closer to that of the murderer than that of the victims.

How an Israeli can write such a sickening, not to mention slanderous, accusation against a loyal member of the cabinet is beyond me. Then again thsi is Haaretz. They are beneath contempt, as are their “journalists”, for whom Zionism and Judaism are dirty words.

A Pittsburgh survivor said that Trump would not be welcome in the city. One can make allowances for him though since he has suffered huge trauma. Thankfully the synagogue Rabbi disagreed.

The Jerusalem Post addresses this political divide in their editorial, saying there is no left-right when Jews are massacred in America:

There is no Right or Left when determining how it’s possible in 21st Century America – built upon the foundations of religious freedom and equality for all, where Jews have enjoyed unprecedented opportunity and enjoy unlimited access to all forms of American society – that there are still people who are intent on completing Hitler’s Final Solution.

In the aftermath of Saturday’s horrendous attack, while the victims’ bodies were still warm and identities unknown, there were those who couldn’t restrain themselves from immediately pointing fingers.

Some made a direct correlation between the hate crime and the policies and rhetoric of US President Donald Trump, claiming that through his “good people on both sides” of the Charlottesville march in 2016, he unleashed the gates of white supremacy and neo-Nazi Neanderthals to roam freely with the complicit acquiesce of the land’s top office.

Those who see things differently need only refer to the recent speech with its accompanying viral video by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan – who has long fanned the flames of antisemitism in the US – in which he compared Jews to termites and called them stupid. In an earlier speech in May, he talked of “Satanic Jews who have infected the whole world with poison and deceit.”

Jew haters like Farrakhan have infected American society for decades, and mass killings that target specific minorities are not an invention of the Trump era.

People can tweet until their fingers fall off about the inappropriateness of Trump saying that positioning a security guard at the front of the shul would have prevented the attack from taking place, or about the proliferation of assault weapons in the US.

American religious institutions certainly do have to take a long, hard look at the realities and start providing professional protection for their worshipers. It shouldn’t be a political debate, however, but rather one of how to most safely secure innocent people in public places.

But it seems like in today’s America, that’s almost impossible. No matter which side of the political spectrum one identifies with, there’s a convenient and convincing argument that cynically exploits the deaths of the Pittsburgh Jews to put forth their own agenda.

However, there is no Right or Left when innocent Jews are slaughtered, simply for being Jews. There are only names of victims, who should be mourned and in whose name any person of compassion and moral clarity should forcefully shout out in voice and in action: NEVER AGAIN.

There were those who attempted to smear the Israeli Orthodox community by accusing Israeli Chief Rabbi Lau of refusing to call the Tree of Life synagogue a synagogue because it is of the Conservative denomination. This is a lie and vicious smear says the Forward (not known for its pro-Orthodox leanings!):

Several news organizations (including this one) jumped on an interview with Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Rabbi David Lau, in response to the Pittsburgh shooting.

Chief Rabbi David Lau

Lau, according to the report, refused to acknowledge that the massacre in Pittsburgh was carried out in a synagogue. The story sparked outrage all over social media, some calling to abolish the Israeli rabbinate while others wondering if Lau even acknowledges non-Orthodox Jews as fellow Jews.

But Lau’s quote was grossly taken out of context — not a single news report actually quoted the full interview, in which the rabbi mourned the victims and emphasized that a conversation about denominational differences is irrelevant here.

For those American Jews who don’t read Hebrew — far too many, it seems — I replicate here the original words of Rabbi David Lau, when asked by a Makor Rishon reporter about his attitude to the Conservative affiliation of the shooting’s victims:

Lau was asked to comment on the ultra-Orthodox Israeli news outlets’ coverage of the massacre, which refused to call the Tree of Life Synagogue a “synagogue” but rather calling it a “Jewish center.”

Lau was evidently aghast. “How is that relevant? Don’t bring that up in [connection to] this topic. We are talking about Jews murdered because they are Jews. Why is this even a question?! I don’t hear or understand what kind of a discussion can be in regard to this question. They were murdered because they were Jews. Why does it matter in what synagogue or what liturgy they were praying?!”

He went on, “I repeat: We are talking about Jews and we cannot take advantage of unnecessary moments. We cannot turn this pain into a topic of debate – this is not a topic [of debate] at all. Yes, I have a hard ideological difference with them, on the subject of Judaism, about its past and its implications for the future of the Jewish people throughout the generations, so what?! But because of this, they are not Jews?!” (Punctuation original.)

The reporter pressed onward, intent on nabbing this headline — “But it was indeed a synagogue?”

To which Lau answered: “Jews were murdered in a place where the murderer saw a place with a prominent Jewish character, a place with Torah scrolls, Jews with prayer shawls, there are siddurim (prayer-books) there, there are people who came there for the sake of closeness to God. The reality is that the murderer went to murder specifically there, and not to another place. Over this, there is pain and anger.”

Some interpreted this a question dodge — but that’s a deliberate stretch, one that is politically fueled and deeply divisive.

Lau was using a classic, emotional description of a synagogue, a description that he knew would resonate with his readers. He depicted a synagogue scene in detail, so Orthodox readers would relate to it beyond denominational differences — “Torah scrolls…Jews with prayer shawls…siddurim.” Lau explicitly described the Tree of Life as a synagogue, as a place people go “for the sake of closeness to God,” when saying, “Why does it matter in what synagogue or what liturgy they were praying?!”

I for one am hugely appreciative of Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt’s clarification which will go a long way to heal the unnecessary rifts in our nation.

There have been many people who have either blamed President Donald Trump for the massacre or do not want him present in Pittsburgh. This politicization has to stop, as the Algemeiner correctly asserts:

On social media, Bowers had frequently attacked not only Jews but President Trump for his closeness to Jews, to whom he referred in the most grotesque terms. “Trump is surrounded by k****,” the rancid killer lamented, “there is no #MAGA as long as there is a k*** infestation.”

Despite these facts, however, many people have come close to blaming Trump for the shooting. Joe Biden, widely expected to run for the presidency in 2020, seemed to do so when he tweeted, apparently to the president, that “words matter” and “silence is complicity.” Famed economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman suggested that Trump was to blame, at least in part. Speaking sarcastically, Krugman tweeted a link to the story with the caption, “but none of the white supremacist terrorism has anything to do with Trump, oh no.” The Washington Post, also, featured an op-ed on its homepage titled “How Culpable is Trump for the Shooting?” The author of that piece, GQ’s Julia Ioffe, tweeted “a word to [her] fellow American Jews: This president makes this possible. Here. Where you live. I hope the embassy move over there, where you don’t live was worth it.”

To politicize the murder of 11 Jews — let alone the worst antisemitic attack on American soil in our nation’s history — is lamentable. Antisemitism and its tragic incarnation in this devastating attack are caused by those who actually hate Jews and call for violence against them. Sadly, there has never been a monopoly on antisemitism. It stems from both the extreme left and the extreme right.

Both extreme left and extreme right have shown horrible strains of antisemitism.

We must also blame nations like Iran that openly call for and fund violence against Jews across the world. We must also point to those who’ve offered them support.

President Trump has already made the decision to remove our nation from the disastrous nuclear agreement signed with Iran, which he called out as a “rogue state.” …

President Trump also signed into law the Taylor Force Act, which finally sought to put an end to the Palestinian Authority’s sadistic practice of handing out actual monetary rewards to those who have killed Jews. Believe it or not, throughout the Obama administration, the Palestinian Authority was giving out enormous sums to those serving prison sentences for murdering or attempting to murder Jews in Israel. …

In fact, if Robert Bowers had been a Palestinian and his eleven victims Jews living in Israel, he and his family would have been collecting their terror-pension for the rest of their lives. And until the passing of the Taylor Force Act, would have thanked us for the cash.

Ultimately, though, what makes the accusations of antisemitism against Trump especially unfair is the fact that beyond just having Jewish friends and associates, he is the first president of the United States to have Jewish children and grandchildren.

Even Trump’s worst enemies would admit that he loves and deeply cherishes his daughter Ivanka, who is herself an Orthodox Jew. He supported her decision to join the Jewish people through the strictest processes of conversion, before throwing her a kosher wedding. Through his daughter, Trump now has three Jewish grandchildren who attend Jewish schools. His son-in-law Jared Kushner and Ivanka regularly attend synagogue themselves.

As yet more Jewish blood is absorbed into the earth, we cannot allow these events to be sharpened into spears to be hurled against political opponents. That would only deepen the divides within a nation that desperately needs to heal. We must instead take a moment to reflect upon who are the ones truly spreading hateful gospels against the Jewish people, and do everything in our power to ensure that they are weakened, silenced, and eventually brought down.

The good news is that help and support has come from all sectors. The most heart-warming support that I have seen so far has come from the Pittsburgh Muslim community, who not only raised over $70,000 in an instant fundraiser, but the Imam expresses his support particularly in order to show gratitude to the Jewish community which showed them support in their time of hardship

It was also not just words and “thoughts and prayers” but offers of practical help:

Kol hakavod to the Islamic leader and Muslim community of Pittsburgh. May you be an example to other faith communities worldwide. If only this wonderful example of community solidarity and cohesion could be reflected in the Middle East! How wonderful our lives would be.

Let us remember the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre be remembered for a blessing, and I wish comfort and strength to the bereaved.

המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים ולא תוסיפו לדאבה עוד.

May G-d comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may you know no more sorrow.

יהי זכרם ברוך


This entry was posted in Antisemitism, Incitement, International relations, Judaism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Remembering the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre amid calls for unity

  1. Pingback: Remembering the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre amid calls for unity – 24/6 Magazine

  2. Reality says:

    The politicization of this horrific terrorist crime is nothing less than another crime.
    To all Americans spewing out hatred of Trump, I know I don’t understand your politics, but surely even you can see that there hasn’t been a president who loves Jews and lives and supports Israel ,ever like Trump. Why on earth are you blaming him? Would you have blamed Obama? who lets say it as it really is: He’s definitely not a Jew lover,and certainly detests Israel. Because of Obama’s deals and hatred of Israel, many people suffered through terrorism.
    I know you are all hurting,but honestly, don’t blame Trump

Comments are closed.