Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
For an hour the terrified, largely elderly congregants tried to hide, finding refuge in storage nooks and unused rooms as a hate-filled, anti-Semitic gunman roamed the Tree of Life Synagogue. In scenes that evoked the darkest days of the Holocaust, many crouched together, avoiding light, huddled in pitch-black storage areas, listening to the murderer pick off their friends and relatives one by one.
By the time the massacre was over, 11 Jews lay dead, murdered in shul on Shabbat simply because they were Jewish. Four others were wounded. Here are their names.
Joyce Feinberg, 75
Joyce Feinberg was a talented committed Jew. A native of Toronto, she earned a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto and later worked with emotionally disturbed children in a residential treatment center.
In 1968, Joyce met her husband Stephen, an eminent professor of statistics and social science. Together, the couple worked on many joint projects researching how people learn from visiting museums. When Stephen got a professorship at Carnegie Mellon University in the early 1980s, the couple moved to Pittsburgh and made it their home, settling in the leafy suburb of Oakland.
Joyce started working at the University of Pittsburgh, researching the way children learn in both classrooms and museums, and retired in 2008. For decades, Joyce worked with Dr. Gaea Leinhardt, who wants to make sure the world knows what a precious human being Joyce was: “Joyce was a magnificent, generous, caring, and profoundly thoughtful human being.”
After Stephen died in 2016, Joyce began attending the Tree of Life Synagogue every day, and continued giving and helping others. After services, she often volunteered at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh. Joyce is survived by her brother, two sons, Anthony and Howard, and six grandchildren.
Richard Gottfried, 65
When Richard’s father Herbert passed away in 1992, Richard was determined to say Kaddish for him every day. As he started to attend services daily, Richard deepened his Jewish faith and identity and eventually became president of New Light Congregation
Richard was a beloved local dentist. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974, and gained his dental medical degree from the same university in 1980. It was there he met Margaret. The two opened their own dentistry practice in 1984 and shared a passion for helping others. Though they’d reached retirement age, both Richard and Margaret volunteered at a free dental clinic in their spare time. Richard also was known to provide dental care for free to people in the community who couldn’t afford treatment.
Richard’s nephew, Jacob Gottfried, honored his memory with a message to all: “Today I lost an important person in my life. My uncle was murdered doing what he loved, praying to God. I don’t want to live in a world where I must fear to live as a Jew.” Richard’s widow Margaret, in the midst of her grief, had a plea of her own: that we combat evil. “Do not let his death be in vain,” she begged.
Rose Mallinger, 97
Rose Mallinger was a “fixture of the congregation” at the Tree of Life Synagogue, according to Brian Schreiber, the president and CEO of the JCC of Pittsburgh, who is also a member there. She was kind and sweet and full of life.
Although some media outlets erroneously reported that Rose was a Holocaust survivor, a family friend tweeted that Rose’s great niece has said she was not. After a career as a school secretary, Rose was devoted to her two children and three grandchildren. She was a regular at Shabbat services.
Rose knew all the members of the synagogue, friends recalled, and would always offer a friendly greeting to everyone. She was the “sweetest, lovely lady” explained Robin Friedman, who first met Rose when she was a child attending the school where Rose worked.
Rose’s daughter Andrea Wedner, 61, was wounded in the attack, and is expected to recover.
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Jerry Rabinowitz was a beloved personal physician who forged a close personal bond with his patients. Michael Kerr, a former patient, recalled how Jerry was an early pioneer in treating HIV infection. “In the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh he was the one to go to. Basically before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, he was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest. He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always always hugged us as we left his office.”
Susan Blackman, whose family went to Dr. Rabinowitz, described him “like a member of the family, and a member of the extended family. Dr. Jerry was just somebody who, when you see him, your eyes light up.”
Jerry’s nephew Avishai Ostrin described his uncle: “You know how they say there are people just lighten up a room? You know that cliché about people whose laugh is infectious? That was Uncle Jerry. It wasn’t a cliché. It was just his personality. His laughter, with his chest-heaving up and down, with a huge smile on is face – that was Uncle Jerry.”
According to Avishai, Jerry was not shot in the basement of the Tree of Life building where his congregation was praying. He was shot outside the room because when he heard shots, Jerry ran outside to see if anyone was hurt and needed a doctor: “That was Uncle Jerry, that’s just what he did.”
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
Cecil Rosenthal, 59, along with his brother David, 54, was a regular at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Shabbat mornings. He loved to carry the Torah, and was usually the first one to step forward to take it. Both brothers had developmental disabilities and lived together in their own apartment near the synagogue, with help from a local Jewish charity.
Cecil loved going out, enjoyed concerts and liked trying new foods. He participated in the Best Buddies program and for the past two years was partnered with David DeFelice, a Duquesne University senior. The pair often ate together and attended Tree of Life Shabbat services together. In the aftermath of his horrific murder, DeFelice wanted people to know how warm and kind Cecil was. “He was a very gregarious person – loved being social, loved people”.
Raye Coffey and her family used to live next door to the Rosenthals. Cecil and his brother David were “constantly” at their house; Cecil in particular seemed like a “big brother” to the Coffey’s three children. “Whenever he would see us, he would always say, ‘Hi, Coffeys!’” Raye fondly recalls.
David Rosenthal, 54
David Rosenthal loved attending Tree of Life services with his brother Cecil. He lived with his brother Cecil and was “quieter” than his older brother, former neighbor Raye Coffey recalls. David and Cecil often spent their days at the local JCC, speaking with everyone who passed through the building. “To say that everyone in the Pittsburgh Jewish community knows them is not even a remote exaggeration,” explained their relative Jeffrey Solomon, a financial consultant. “They were both active participants in so much of life.”
He recalled that David and Cecil often spoke joyously about their extended family. Warm and friendly, David and Cecil were “part of the community” and enriched the tight-knit community of Jewish Pittsburgh.
David and Cecil were standing at the entrance to the Tree of Life Synagogue on Shabbat, handing out prayer books, and were the gunman’s first victims.
Bernice Simon, 84
Bernice Simon used to bake delicious cranberry orange bread. Her neighbor Heather Graham knows just how tasty Bernice’s baking was because she often shoveled snow from the front of her elderly neighbors’ townhouse – and then Bernice would leave a thank you note and fresh-baked loaf on Heather’s car in return.
Bernice was killed along with her husband Sylvan. Heather recalls them as a loving couple: “They held hands, and they always smiled, and he would open the door for her.” Bernice and Sylvan wed in the Tree of Life Synagogue 62 years ago. A wedding announcement from 1956 notes that Bernice Rothenberg, as she was then, was a student at the Montefiore Hospital School of Nursing; Sylvan was studying to be an accountant. Bernice worked as a nurse before retiring.
Sylvan Simon, 86
Sylvan Simon and his wife Bernice were fixtures in their close knit suburb of Wilkinsburg. His neighbor Michael Stepaniak told reporters that he and Sylvan used to stand chatting by their mailboxes. “A loving couple,” he described them, “and they’ve been together forever.”
The Simon’s front door was testament to their patriotism, decorated with stickers saying “Support our Troops”, “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful”. Neighbor Jo Stepaniak recalls him as “kind, generous and good-hearted”. One of her greatest impressions of Sylvan was his devotion to his wife: “Anything that they could do…they did it as a team.”
Sylvan and Bernice were devoted to their neighborhood and to the Jewish community. “They wanted to give back to people and be kind,” Stepaniak remembers. “They were loving and giving and kind – gracious and dignified.”
Daniel Stein, 71
Daniel Stein attended services every Shabbat morning and had formerly served as the congregation’s president. Daniel’s wife Sharyn often went with him, but on the day of his murder he went to synagogue alone.
Daniel had worked at several careers. He’d been a substitute teacher, had worked at a plumbing supply store, and also in a funeral home. Friends remembered his dry sense of humor. Daniel and his wife enjoyed travelling; they’d visited Israel and taken a Caribbean cruise. In recent months, however, Daniel had reason to stay close to home in Pittsburgh: seven months ago he’d become a grandfather when his daughter Leigh had her first baby, a little boy named Henry.
Daniel was devoted to his little grandson. “He won’t remember his grandfather, who loved him dearly,” Daniel’s nephew told reporters. Daniel had a giving nature and enriched the lives of everyone he came across: “He was a great man and lived a great life and it ended so horrifically.”
Melvin Wax, 88
Melvin Wax was usually one of the first to arrive at the synagogue and one of the very last to leave. He attended services every Shabbat morning, and also on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. “The synagogue for him was very important,” his sister, Bonnie Wax, told reporters. “We always used to kid with him that you should have been a rabbi.”
His career was in accountancy, but Melvin did fulfill many of the roles that rabbis sometimes perform. “If somebody didn’t come that was supposed to lead services,” his friend Myron recalled, Melvin would step in. “He knew how to do everything at the synagogue. He was really a very learned person.” At the time of the massacre, Melvin was leading Shabbat morning services.
When he was younger, he used to help people with their income tax returns for free. “He was such a kind, kind person.”
Irving Younger, 69
Irving Younger was a charismatic man who loved attending Shabbat services each week. He often arrived first thing in the morning and remained at shul until late in the day. He volunteered and would take the initiative when he saw something that needed doing: greeting new members, helping visitors find a seat, and finding prayer books for people in the synagogue.
He was known by everybody as “Irv” and often took walks in the area, greeting and speaking to people. “He would never walk away from anybody,” Barton Schachter recalled.
Irv grew up in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where the massacre took place, attended Taylor Allderdice High School there, and ran a real estate company in one of Squirrel Hill’s main boulevards. In the mid-2000s, he helped coach baseball in Pittsburgh public schools. “He was the kind of guy who walked up and down the street, shook everybody’s hand and said hello,” Barton Schachter explained.
Irv had a son and a daughter and had recently become a grandfather for the second time. “He had two grandchildren in California he adored,” remembers Toby Neufeld, a teacher at the synagogue’s school. “He constantly showed us pictures of the kids and what they were doing.”
May each of their memories be for a blessing.