10/27 survivors and families prepare for three-month trial
"It’s important for us to bear witness — and we’ve been waiting for that justice to be served for a long time.”
It’s not going to be easy for Howard Fienberg to rearrange his life so that he can be in court during the trial of the man accused of murdering his mother, Joyce Fienberg, and 10 other Jews in the Tree of Life building.
But he’s committed to making it work.
“It’s important for me personally because I’m representing my family, my large extended family,” he said. “And I try to keep that in mind at all times when I’m dealing with anything related to this.”
Survivors and family members have waited 4½ years for justice to be served regarding the Oct. 27 massacre. Those killed were: Jerry Rabinowitz, a member of Congregation Dor Hadash; Richard Gottfried, Daniel Stein and Mel Wax, members of New Light Congregation; and Joyce Fienberg, Rose Mallinger, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, and Irving Younger, members of Tree of Life Congregation. Daniel Leger, of Dor Hadash, and Andrea Wedner, of Tree of Life, were both shot and seriously wounded, as were four first responders.
The trial is expected to begin with jury selection on April 24 and run most weekdays for about three months. Survivors and family members of victims will have to make major life adjustments to be present in court for that length of time.
Fienberg, a lobbyist living in a northern Virginia suburb, will not only be separated from his immediate family while in Pittsburgh, but he will have to find ways to manage his work obligations. He assumed he could bring his laptop to an overflow room in the federal courthouse and work from there, but then learned that electronics are not permitted in the overflow room.
“So, I am going to be bringing massive amounts of printouts of things I need to work on,” he said. “And my boss has already agreed that she’s happy to take care of getting all of my work transcribed. So, my work habits are going to change.”
Some of his work will have to “go on hold,” he said. “In the meantime, I suspect I will be putting in work in the evenings while I’m in Pittsburgh.”
The shooter is charged with 63 criminal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death, and discharge of a firearm to commit murder. He has pled not guilty. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
In a court filing last week, the prosecution and defense agreed to a summary of the indictment, including that the defendant “is said to have made statements about his desire to ‘kill Jews’” while in the building.
For Fienberg, showing up at the trial is “important as a Jew” in standing up against antisemitism.
“That’s the issue,” Fienberg said. “That’s the reason why, at the next level, it’s important for us to bear witness — and we’ve been waiting for that justice to be served for a long time.”
Having to wait so long for the trial to begin has been “frustrating,” he said, but he understands the reason for the delay.
“There’s a group of us that have been insistent since the beginning in supporting the death penalty,” he said. “And we understand the consequences of that, that it can lengthen the process. That’s a choice we made, and we accept the consequences of that.”
Audrey Glickman, a member of Tree of Life, is a survivor of the attack. She will resign her position as assistant to Rabbi Seth Adelson of Congregation Beth Shalom before the start of the trial.
The trial is one of the reasons she is resigning, she said, but not the only reason.
“For people in a position such as mine, it’s hard to take off work,” Glickman said. She is expecting to be called as a witness and hopes to be present in court for others’ testimony as well.
If the trial were the only reason for her resignation, Glickman said, she would “have to have a deeper discussion about what is time off and what I’m permitted to take… The presumption is you want to be there, but not everyone’s job allows that kind of freedom.”
To clear her calendar for three months, Glickman is “accelerating doctors’ appointments.” She is grateful her son’s wedding was in March, avoiding a potential conflict. “I guess I am trying to arrange my life so that things happen earlier, or they’re put off-able, and I have them stretched out later,” she said.
Glickman’s not feeling anxiety about testifying; she’s been “ready to testify since minutes after it happened,” she said. “And I’m intent on justice being served.”
Carol Black, a member of New Light, survived the attack, but her brother, Richard Gottfried, was killed that day. She has not decided how much of the trial she will attend.
“I guess I’m going to have to see as it goes along,” Black said. “What’s going to feel appropriate? I’m retired, so I don’t have the restriction of work. But I don’t know how much I want it to absorb my life.
“One of the things I think is important is, I want there to be a presence in the courtroom,” Black continued. “I don’t want the defense and the defendant to think that I’m intimidated. And so I think it’s important for him to see that I’m not going to be cowered — and I feel like I need to represent my family’s interests.”
Black has put trips on hold during the anticipated duration of the trial.
“My husband and I were talking about wanting to go somewhere when it was over, so we made plans for early September in the hopes that it’ll be over by then,” she said. “You know, I almost haven’t even contemplated how much this is going to consume my life over those months. But the time is now, during the trial — that’s the time to be absorbed in it, and then it will be over and then I have the rest of my life to do things. And so my priority has to be focused on what needs to happen during that period of time.”
In preparation for the trial, Black said she and others have had a lot of support through the 10.27 Healing Partnership and JFCS.
“We have a group of people who survived the shooting that day, and we’ve been getting together once a month for years now — and also the family members, those who lost somebody in that shooting,” she said. “These are people that have become very important to me. So I have the support.”
Oct. 27 survivors and victims’ family members have also been in touch with survivors and family members of victims of other deadly attacks to get a feel for what to expect at trial.
“They have been very willing to share with us what they wish they would have known before they experienced their scenarios,” Black said. “And it’s really emotional. It’s draining.
“I do not want what happened to ruin my life,” she stressed. “I want to lead a joyous life. Whatever time I have left of it, I want it to be filled with joy. I also want to make sure that the names of the 11 people are not forgotten.”
Steve Weiss was attending services in Tree of Life’s Pervin Chapel on the day of the attack and was able to get to safety. He anticipates being called as a witness.
Weiss, who has moved to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, doesn’t know if he will attend the trial every day, but he does plan to be present for much of it. That will mean long periods away from his wife, who may not be attending as often.
“She’ll probably come in whenever I’m scheduled to testify,” Weiss said, “but beyond that, I don’t know that she’s going to come in.
“She has had a more difficult time with all of this actually than I have,” he continued. “You know, she thought that I would have been killed that morning. She started from that perspective. And she’s very concerned about me being away for a large period of time.”
While he wants to attend much of the trial, Weiss is concerned about watching the victims’ families relive Oct. 27 through testimony and other evidence.
“I grew up with Cecil and David [Rosenthal],” he said. “My parents were best friends with their parents. And so to have them go through that again… My mom was a good friend of Bernice [Simon]. I want to see justice happen, but at the same time, I hate to think about the families having to potentially see images of what happened and things of that sort. I’m sure they have mental images, but to have to actually see photos of victims and things of that sort I think can really be difficult for them.
“I think that what all of us really need is closure on all this,” Weiss continued. “And hopefully, through this trial, we’ll be able to get some form of closure.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at [email protected]