The Chronicle reached out to family and friends of the 11 people who were killed five years ago during the antisemitic attack in the Tree of Life building, and asked what Jewish values their loved ones exemplified, and how our community could best honor those values. Here’s what they said.
Joyce Fienberg, 75, Tree of Life Congregation
Our mother, Joyce Fienberg z”l (zichrona l’bracha, may her memory be a blessing), was a purveyor of chessed, translated from Hebrew as “loving kindness.” She championed this value on a personal level toward everyone with whom she came in contact. We were mesmerized by stories we heard after her passing: We knew the quality she had, we just did not realize the extent this was conveyed to broad spectrums of the community, Jewish and not.
She dedicated significant time and effort in her later years to volunteering at Family House (which provides a “home away from home” for patients and their families who travel to Pittsburgh hospitals for expert medical care) and the Children’s Room, an NCJW initiative to provide care/safe haven for children of (often single) parents who have to appear in court. She really enjoyed taking care of the little ones, because although my brother and I gave her grandchildren (b’ezrat Hashem — “blessed is/with the help of G d”), we both had moved away from Pittsburgh after high school and our children were already out of their toddler years by then.
We see the first example of chessed in the Torah when Avraham shows hospitality to guests (Genesis 18:2). The idea is that in the relationship between people, acts of chessed are not performed with expectation of reciprocity. This is a fundamental concept, one of the three pillars that sustains the world. (Pirkei Avot 1:2) Chessed is contrasted to another fundamental value of tzedakah, translated from Hebrew as “justice,” but also meaning “charitable giving,” because the latter can be achieved with or without the former. (Sukkot 49b)
Our mother took her volunteer efforts very seriously, as though they were her lifeline, much like most people treat their paid jobs. I called her almost every day, even though I am an ocean away. She had a cell phone and carried it with her everywhere, but when I had the misfortune of calling during one of her volunteer efforts, she would answer: “Is there anything urgent? No? OK, I will call you back when I am done volunteering.” That was Mom.
— Anthony Fienberg
Richard Gottfried, 65, New Light Congregation
Gottfried’s wife, Peg Durachko, stressed how important it was for her late husband to “help be part of a minyan.” When his father died, Gottfried sought out daily minyans, even when he traveled, so he could recite Kaddish, she said. That experience motivated him to continue help making minyans so others would be able to recite Kaddish as well.
“He would go to the Downtown shul just so that people from out of town would be able to pray for their loved ones,” Durachko said. “He would go there in order to be part of a minyan. It was really important to him.”
Gottfried regularly attended services on Shabbat mornings, Durachko said, and was inspired by the weekly Torah portion, which he studied at home during the week as well.
While there is often an emphasis on attending religious services for the sense of community, Gottfried “was there to pray,” she said. “The reason he was there was to pray to God.”
After his father died, and it fell to Gottfried to head family holiday gatherings, he took the responsibility seriously, his wife said. At their Rosh Hashanah table, he might bring up the topic of forgiveness; on Passover, he would lead the seder.
To honor Gottfried’s legacy, Durachko suggested community members celebrate Shabbat, show love for Torah, “show up at synagogue and embrace the faith.”
Rose Mallinger, 97, Tree of Life Congregation
Rose Mallinger held fast to traditional Jewish values, her daughter Andrea Wedner said. Attending synagogue services was important to her, as was keeping a kosher home. Wedner said her mother and her father, the late Morris Mallinger, “were very active in the synagogue.”
“They went Friday night, they went Saturday, they were there Sunday for Men’s Club breakfast — the women cook the breakfast and they set up and clean up. My mom was in Sisterhood and the Sisterhood raised money to give to the synagogue. It was a big part of their lives.”
Participating in Jewish community activities was paramount for the Mallingers, whether at Tree of Life Congregation, the JCC or other organizations like B’nai B’rith.
“They were devoted to their Jewish life,” Wedner said. “We had a good Jewish upbringing because of them.”
Being together with family, and passing on Jewish traditions, meant everything to Mallinger and her husband.
“It was important to them to make sure the next generation would carry it on,” Wedner said. “It was important to me to marry somebody Jewish because of how I grew up and how I was raised. It was important to me, but it was also important to them.”
Rose Mallinger “was the matriarch of the family,” Wedner added. When it came to celebrating Jewish holidays, “she kept everything going.”
“When we would take pictures, the kids would all get around her — she’s in the center, and they’re all around her. And that’s just how it was. It was all about Bubbie.”
Attending synagogue, participating in other aspects of Jewish communal life and sharing Jewish traditions with family are ways the community can honor her mother’s legacy, Wedner said.
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Congregation Dor Hadash
Our sages teach, “The world stands on three things: Torah, worship of Ha’shem, and acts of loving kindness.” Pirkei Avot 1:2
Jerry lived a life devoted to Gemilut Chasadim. He readily gave of himself, performing acts of loving kindness, without anticipating receiving something in return.
I received dozens of letters from Jerry’s patients expressing their love of him, not only because he was an excellent practitioner, but for his warmth and compassion, even when delivering bad medical news. Many mentioned how they ended each visit with “Dr. Jerry” by exchanging a warm hug. Others wrote to say that the “highlight” of their hospital stay was Jerry’s daily visits. Seeing his smile buoyed their spirits.
Jerry’s acts of loving kindness extended beyond the living. He was a stalwart member of the New Community Chevra Kadisha. Lovingly preparing the deceased for burial Jerry hoped would provide dignity to the deceased and comfort to the bereaved family.
Jerry saw the best in everyone and showered us with his kindness, positivity, and an unwavering dedication to his family, his patients and his community.
We can all practice Gemilut Chasadim just by doing something good out of the kindness of our hearts.
— Miri Rabinowitz
Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, Tree of Life Congregation
While Cecil and David Rosenthal — known affectionately as “The Boys” — both had what some would call a disability, their sister Michele Rosenthal said, “They were far better than most in our world.”
“They went through life without judging others,” she said. “Their kindness and their love, and their compassion and their curiosity are really what our family would want people to remember about them.”
The values most important to The Boys were “family, going to synagogue and taking care of people,” their sister Diane Rosenthal said. “And despite their disabilities — mental and some physical limitations and just being vulnerable — they were the first to reach out to people and help them. If anyone was sick, they’d ask, ‘Did we send them flowers? Did we make them food? Did we stop by?’
“And they knew everything in town going on,” she added. “When someone was getting married, when someone’s granddaughter was getting bat mitzvahed, when someone was sick. And despite their disabilities, they reached out to everyone.”
The Hebrew word “chessed,” meaning lovingkindness, exemplifies how Cecil and David lived their lives, Diane Rosenthal said.
“The Boys really embodied everything in terms of just giving of themselves and taking care of people and wanting to help in all situations. They were a true embodiment of that.”
The values exhibited by Cecil and David were Jewish values, Michele Rosenthal said, but they were also the values taught by their parents, Joy and Eli.
The community can honor the legacy of The Boys through “the simple act of just respecting one another, respecting our differences and being kind and not harming anyone,” Michele Rosenthal said, “especially with what is going on in our world today. There is so much brutality there is so much hate.”
Supporting the rebuilding of Tree of Life is another way to honor The Boys, their sisters said.
“That’s something that boys would want,” Diane Rosenthal said. “That’s what we want to support — making sure that Judaism lives on.”
Bernice Simon, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86, Tree of Life Congregation
There are numerous Jewish as well as basic human values that were fundamental in the lives of my parents, Bernice and Sylvan Simon. They regularly practiced these values in many different forms and variations while continuously sharing and expressing them to everyone they came in contact with.
Some of these values included bestowing great love, thoughtful deeds and caring upon family and friends. This was paramount in all of their personal interactions.
My parents always displayed loving kindness and caring to all by frequently phoning and visiting sick friends and bringing them food in order to ease their burden.
Representing another important facet of my parents’ lives: empathy and compassion for others, including strangers, were channeled through generous charitable giving to a plethora of helpful and worthy organizations.
Welcoming guests into their home on a frequent basis revealed my parents’ genuine friendliness, respect and expression of kindness and hospitality to others.
My parents’ devoted caring for animals throughout their lives was ongoing. They continually showered kindness, compassion and love in both health and sickness, toward their pets.
We as community members can honor these values expressed and promoted by my parents while utilizing this variety of examples to serve as a reminder to continue to uphold and promote Jewish and human values via automatically incorporating them into our daily “to-do” lists.
— Marc Simon
Daniel Stein, 71, New Light Congregation
Daniel Stein was raised in Munhall, Pennsylvania, in a home that promoted Jewish values, his daughter Leigh Stein said.
“My grandparents and great-grandparents were pillars of the Homestead Hebrew Congregation and my dad learned the values that Judaism offered at an early age,” she said. Stein was committed to performing acts of loving kindness, his daughter said. He was always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needed help. He made it a point to visit those who were sick and comforted those in mourning through shiva calls.
Stein also was an active and generous volunteer. He often drove elderly community members to doctors’ appointments or to the grocery via the AgeWell rides program. He donated blood regularly. He was a reliable helper at the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry.
Community members wishing to honor Stein’s legacy can make volunteering a priority. They can offer a ride to someone who cannot drive, help out at a food pantry or help make a minyan at a synagogue.
Other ways to perpetuate Stein’s principles include donating blood, Leigh Stein said, spending time with those who are ill and visiting departed loved ones at the cemetery.
Behaving honorably and respectfully were important values that Stein exemplified, Leigh Stein said. He valued honesty and shunned gossip. The community could consider following his lead.
Mel Wax, 88, New Light Congregation
For Mel Wax, it was very important to ensure that there were enough people to constitute a minyan so that Kaddish could be recited, his daughter, Jodi Kart said.
“That was critical to him,” she said. After Kart’s mother died, her father attended Shaare Torah congregation daily (New Light did not have weekday services) so he could say Kaddish. When that year was up, he remained on call to head over to the synagogue to help make the minyan whenever he was needed.
When New Light moved into the Tree of Life building, Wax began attending Sunday morning services with Tree of Life Congregation to help ensure they would have a minyan as well.
Being Jewish was an integral part of Wax’s identity, Kart said. Her earliest memories of her father are of him putting on his tallis and davening at home during the years that he was working and could not attend daily services at a shul.
“And on weekends, he would daven twice a day,” she said.
One way to continue Wax’s legacy, Kart said, would be to attend synagogue services when possible.
“If you could help your congregation, or any congregation, to make that minyan, that would ultimately honor his memory,” she said.
Another way to carry on Wax’s legacy would be to observe Shabbat, Kart said.
“When he worked he wasn’t able to do that, but as soon as he retired, he was there every Friday night, every Saturday morning. He always honored Shabbat. That was very important.”
So, Kart said, whether it is lighting candles or finding another way to acknowledge the day, celebrating Shabbat would be a nice way to remember her dad and the values that were important to him.
Irving Younger, 69, Tree of Life Congregation
Irv Younger was a man with many endearing qualities.
Irv was a very warm and outgoing person who loved being with people and telling jokes. He couldn’t walk down Murray Avenue without constantly being greeted and stopped by friends wanting to say hello, chat or reminisce, and it took only minutes after meeting someone new for them to be added to the long list of those who liked him.
He had a sweet and loving nature. He also had such a generous spirit; a giver and a nurturer with a desire to please and for whom it was very important that others felt he could be depended upon. He got great pleasure out of doing things for others and being needed. He was a devoted family man who took care of his deceased wife through the many years she was ill. He was a foster parent many times over. He was a coach to young baseball players who were so fond of him even many years later. He was a proud member of Tree of Life where he got such pleasure out of being the usher and greeter, and where he cared and was cared about. He was a doting grandfather; when he spoke of his grandson, it seemed as if his heart would burst because it couldn’t contain all the love Irv had for him. He was also the late love of my life, who with me was also incredibly affectionate, playful, easygoing and patient. He had the ability to make those he cared about feel his love strongly and feel taken care of, nurtured and protected.
He had an unusual capacity to feel and express a deep, whole-hearted childlike and unconditional type of love. He also knew that caring was not just noticing but overlooking. He often seemed to hardly notice others’ flaws but which if noticed, were easily forgiven.
For Irv, it was even more important to love than to be loved. PJC
— Judith Kaye
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.