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Remembering the Kedoshim

As we all know, last Shabbat Jews in Pittsburgh gathered together to celebrate life but were met by death. Most never had a chance.

Just before 10:00 a.m., Robert Bowers, 46, burst into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh yelling, "All Jews must die," and murdered 11 innocent people.

Who were those people?

Rose Mallinger, 97, was a retired school secretary. Despite her age, she was spry, vibrant and full of life, a regular synagogue goer. Family was everything to her. She knew her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchild better than they knew themselves. She retained her sharp wit, humor and intelligence until the very last day. Everyone expected her to make it to at least 100.  Her daughter, Andrea Wedner, 61, was with her on Saturday and was among the wounded. Thankfully, she is expected to recover.

The Rosenthal brothers, Cecili, 59, and David, 54, were long-time members of the Tree of Life synagogue and loved going to Saturday morning services. They went every week without fail. The brothers were developmentally disabled and lived together. The two had Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that often results in mild to moderate intellectual disability. Cecil Rosenthal loved to greet people at the door of the synagogue before services, not out of obligation, but out of joy; his laugh was infectious. David was very kind and had a gentle spirit. Together, they looked out for one another. They were inseparable.

Sylvan Simon, 86, and his wife, Bernice, 84, married in the Tree of Life synagogue in 1956 at a candlelight ceremony. Sylvan was a retired accountant with a good sense of humor. Bernice was a former nurse who loved classical music and devoted time to charitable work.

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, was a family doctor. He and his wife, Miri, were devoted members of Dor Hadash, which is housed at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and he had served as past president of the Jewish reconstructionist congregation. Known for his signature bowtie and delightful bedside manner, Rabinowitz earned a reputation for faithfully tending to the needs of his patients, friends and family. He was extremely caring and would always put everyone else’s needs before his own.

Richard Gottfried, 65, not only was a longtime dentist, but was an avid golfer, runner and book lover. According to the biography on his website, he had completed 28th in one of Pittsburgh’s biggest 10K events, the annual Great Race. He practiced dentistry with Margaret, his wife of 38 years. They volunteered their skills as dentists regularly for the Catholic Charities Free Dental Clinic.

Melvin Wax, 88, was a kind, simple man with a well-known presence in the synagogue. A retired accountant, he went to the Tree of Life synagogue three to four times a week. Although hard of hearing, Wax was in good health, told jokes, was “with it” mentally and held good conversations.

Daniel Stein, 71, was a member of the New Light Congregation. He helped everywhere and made the tough stuff look effortless. Sometimes that meant coordinating the convergence of two congregations. Sometimes that meant coaching little league baseball. Sometimes it meant helping to improve the cemetery. He attended services every Saturday and was an active supporter of the community.

Joyce Fienberg, 75, spent most of her career as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, studying how children learn in the classroom and museums. She retired in 2008.  She was a magnificent, generous, caring and profoundly thoughtful human being.

Irving Younger, 69 did the tasks no one else wanted to — and he did them with a smile. When people came in to Tree of Life for services, he would greet them. He would guide them to a seat, and he would hand them a book if they needed one. He was a regular at Saturday services and consistent volunteer. He would arrive early and stay late.

Are We Safe?

As a result of this terrible tragedy and the fact that there has been an uptick in anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. over the past several years, many Jews are asking themselves - is America still a safe place for us?

For example, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe writes: “In the America I grew up in, Jews assumed that peace and harmony would go on indefinitely. No more.” I’m not sure I agree.

One reason being, the amazing response by the American community at large. People of all backgrounds have unequivocally denounced this heinous act and have actively been offering to be of help in anyway they can, including raising a consequential amount of money.

Another reason is the reaction around the country to Tim Hindes’ (CEO of Trail Blaze Creative) modification of a uniquely Pittsburgh symbol of solidarity and strength in the aftermath of Saturday's deadly attack. The image is a revamped Pittsburgh Steelers logo, with the Star of David substituted for the team's yellow star-like design. It's paired with the phrase "Stronger than Hate.”

A Stronger Than Hate graphic used to replace their profiles by friends, family and supporters of the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Hindes explained that, “We were strong before this tragedy. A tragedy like this just makes us stronger. Just like you can’t break steel, you can’t break the resiliency of a Pittsburgher. We are stronger than hate.” The social media response to Hindes’ message has been spectacular.  

Therefore, I’m still hopeful that the America I grew up in hasn’t changed. Are there anti-Semites in America? Yes, there always have been. BUT they do NOT represent what America is about. America is the most tolerant and accepting and loving country the Jews have experienced, outside of Israel, in the long span of recorded time.  We do need to be vigilant, BUT we do not need to fear for our safety.