'Wonderful People, Good Souls': The Victims Of The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting
Updated at 4:03 p.m. ET
Eleven people were killed on Saturday when a gunman entered Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire on the congregants. The victims ranged in age from 54 to 97; eight were men, three were women. Two of them were brothers, and two were a married couple.
Our top story on Midday edition the man arrested in connection with the deadliest attack on Jews in America is being charged with a federal capital crime and faces the death penalty if convicted. Eleven members of the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh were killed while attending services Saturday. Six others were injured. There have been questions raised about whether this is a turning point for Jewish communities in this country. Deadly anti-Semitic attacks have happened in many nations. But this massacre in America is deeply disturbing to people who believed it couldn't happen here. Joining me is Professor Brian Levin. He's director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino. He has testified before both houses of Congress and various state legislatures on hate and terrorism. And Professor Levin thank you for joining us. Thank you so much for having me. The Anti Defamation League says the number of anti-Semitic hate crimes rose 57 percent last year. With that backdrop do you think it was only a matter of time until something like this happened. Well major American cities including San Diego by the way that hate crimes were up so we were seeing another increase overall in 2017. And the FBI is coming out with some data in a couple of weeks nationally and we expect it to mirror what we found in the major cities were Jews by the way from the top cities are in the top three or so for targeted victims. Even though nationally only 2 percent of the population and in America's largest cities through a little over 4 percent. So when you see something like that a trend like that the rising number of hate crimes and hate incidents. Do you expect to see an escalation the way we saw in Pittsburgh. Yes but we've been expecting that for some time. One of the things that's important is the rise of white nationalism and what we have seen is for instance an explosion of hate speech in certain dark corners of the Internet. We also saw in the two and a half years going into and just past Charlottesville more mega rallies that has large rallies by white supremacist or nationalists of 100 or more people in public. We saw more of them in those two and a half years than the previous 10 to 20 years combined. What else are we seeing. We're seeing a slew of candidates running for places like U.S. Senate and Congress who are white nationalists white supremacist and Holocaust deniers. And we're seeing more of them this time around. Running for the higher offices than we've seen in some time. We know that from some of the social surveys out there that the most hardened bigots around the upper single digits. So for instance an ABC Washington Post poll from last year showed that 9 percent of Americans said that Nazi views were acceptable. So unfortunately we have this this rock of hate that while small seems to be a bit intractable. What is typically historically going on in society when hate crimes rise. I mean after all we have a good economy there there's low unemployment. Where is this hatred coming from. That is such a great question. And you not all here is exactly the same. So f'rinstance in the prior decade we saw kind of a bit of a spike from some of the earlier years into the middle and end part of a decade relating to Latino's when we had an influx. With regard to immigration. And then when we saw towards the end of the decade higher unemployment that seemed to correlate somewhat not completely to hate crimes against Latinos. But in 2008 we saw an increase in hate crimes around October which was a conflictual election involving one party leaving and another party coming in. But those peaks around October 2016. However when we had an insurgency what I mean an insurgency in other words we're going to have a possible change in parties. What we saw was the hate crimes actually spiked in November and this spike was of historic significance. November 2016 was the worst month for a hate crime nationally in 14 years and the day after the election we had a Muslim bomb plot in Kansas and the most hate crimes that we've seen on any single day. Going back to 2003 indeed here in California the only days in 2016 that had double digit numbers of crimes were the days right after the election when we saw an explosion of hate crimes. So we're concerned that with the conflictual election coming up now even though it's a midterm election we've seen some kind of escalating at least chronologically around that and it'll be interesting to see whether it continues after the election as we saw in 2016 but not so much in 2008. Now the rhetoric of President Trump and news organizations that support him has been highly critical of the migrant caravan from Central America. Now there are reports that the shooter posted on social media that he believed Jewish organizations were behind the caravan. What are we to make of that kind of conflation of ideas. What an excellent question and I think what we're seeing is an intersection not only of hate violence but also political violence meeting. And I think you make an important point when there were statements by political leaders sometimes but not always correlates to immediate increases in hate crime. Let me give you some examples where it didn't go up when Candidate Trump launched his campaign and made those derisive statements about Latinos hate crimes against Latinos did not immediately go up. In fact they went down the following week. Similarly during a Republican debate in Detroit in 2015 it was divided between kind of the lower percentage runners and the front runners. There were some statements that were made in passing that were anti Muslim but it didn't register. However when a candidate Trump spoke about Syrian refugees and sending them back or when he talked about his Muslim ban proposal five days after the San Bernardino terrorist attack in those instances in those instances we saw significant spikes in anti Muslim hate crime. The difference of those times where he was coming up on being a front runner or was a front runner depending on which one we're talking about. And these comments got wide publicity including on some outlets live on television. So it seems like the more we have a catalytic event that a political politician is talking about the more this message is being spread far and wide and the the higher level that politician is the more likely it's going to be to correlate to a possible rise in hate crime. But it doesn't happen every time. Now President Trump made a forceful denunciation of anti-Semitism after the Pittsburgh attacked he called it a vile hate filled poison. What else if anything would you like to see the president do. I think what the president should do is not only make these kind of scripted remarks. It almost seems like he's reading it and I think that one of the things we've seen is he doesn't sustain the message when Charlottesville occurred. He talks about good people on both sides. When these folks were marching with torches saying Jews will not replace us. Also he needs to put more resources into the agencies that combat this stuff not only limited lip service but sustained use of the bully pulpit. Not that it's going to make a difference with everybody but we do know that for instance when tolerant messages are made by leaders it can have an impact. Six days after 9/11 President Bush spoke at the Islamic Center of D.C. about religious tolerance. Hate crimes dropped by two thirds the next day and they dropped by two thirds in the coming year. I've been speaking with Professor Brian Levin director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino. Professor Levin thank you. Thank you so much for having me. A vigil to honor the people who lost their lives at the Tree of Life synagogue attack will take place tonight at 7:00 at the Congregation Beth Israel located at 9 d'Eau one Town Center Dr..
Chuck Diamond was a rabbi at Tree of Life until about a year ago, and he remains a member of the community, living just around the corner from the synagogue. He knew many of the victims.
"These are wonderful people, good souls, who were just coming to synagogue as they usually did," he told NPR on Sunday. "Synagogue was just getting started and mostly elderly people who come there are there at the beginning, and you could count on them every week for coming. ... It's such a crime that their lives were taken from us."
But he said the city's residents are coming together to support one another after the tragedy. "Pittsburgh," he said, "is a wonderful community. It's not only a wonderful Jewish community, it's just a wonderful community."
The names of the victims were released on Sunday morning by the Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner. Here are some of their stories, updated as we learn them.
Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill, was the oldest of the victims.
Diamond told NPR that Rose "was in her 90s, but she was one of the younger ones among us, I have to tell you, in terms of her spirit. Rose was wonderful."
Daniel Stein, 71, lived in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He is the former president of the New Light Congregation, a Conservative synagogue that held services at Tree of Life.
He was remembered for his kindness.
"He was always willing to help anybody," his nephew, Steven Halle, told TribLIVE, formerly The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "He was somebody that everybody liked, very dry sense of humor and recently had a grandson who loved him."
Melvin Wax, 88, also of Squirrel Hill, was remembered as a pillar of the New Light Congregation.
"He was such a kind, kind person," his friend and fellow congregant, Myron Snider, told the Associated Press. "When my daughters were younger, they would go to him, and he would help them with their federal income tax every year. Never charged them."
"He and I used to, at the end of services, try to tell a joke or two to each other. Most of the time they were clean jokes. Most of the time. I won't say all the time. But most of the time."
Snider said Wax was a bit hard of hearing and unfailingly attended Friday, Saturday and Sunday services, filling in at nearly every role if someone didn't show up.
"Just a sweet, sweet guy," he said.
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough, was a family doctor.
He practiced in a "small, cozy office in Pittsburgh's Bloomfield neighborhood," TribLIVE reporter Ben Schmitt wrote in a personal remembrance. Rabinowitz was his father's doctor, and his own.
Schmitt recalled how his father became ill on a trip to India and called Rabinowitz in Pittsburgh for advice. The doctor called his father every day for the rest of his trip to check in on his health.
"I felt like I was in such competent, caring hands," Schmitt's father said. "Such a kind and gentle man."
Rabinowitz also was the personal physician to former Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus, who released a statement on Sunday remembering him.
"Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz ... was truly a trusted confidant and healer who could always be counted upon to provide sage advice whenever he was consulted on medical matters, usually providing that advice with a touch of genuine humor," said Claus, according to CBS affiliate KDKA. "He had a truly uplifting demeanor, and as a practicing physician he was among the very best."
Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, were brothers who shared an apartment in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
Raye Coffey, a close friend and former neighbor of the Rosenthals' parents, told TribLIVE that the Rosenthals spent a lot of time in her house when they were younger. She said the brothers faced mental challenges and were fixtures at Tree of Life, where Cecil was a greeter.
"Cecil was always a big brother. He was very warm and very loving. Whenever he would see us, he would always say, 'Hi, Coffeys!' "
"David was quieter," she said. "But both were ... to die like this is horrendous."
ACHIEVA, an organization that works with people with disabilities, said that the brothers were well-respected members of its community. Chris Schopf, who runs the group's residential programs, said the brothers never missed a Saturday at Tree of Life.
"If they were here they would tell you that is where they were supposed to be," Schopf said in a statement. "Cecil's laugh was infectious. David was so kind and had such a gentle spirit. Together, they looked out for one another. They were inseparable. Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around."
Bernice Simon, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg were remembered by neighbors as sweet, kind and generous.
They were married at Tree of Life in December 1956, according to TribLIVE.
"A loving couple and they've been together forever," longtime friend and neighbor Michael Stepaniak told the news site. "I hope they didn't suffer much and I miss them terribly."
Joyce Fienberg, 75, lived in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood and grew up in Toronto. She had two sons and was remembered as a proud grandmother.
"[She was] the most amazing and giving person," her brother, Bob Libman, told the CBC.
Fienberg was a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center for more than 25 years.
In a statement on Sunday, the center called her "a cherished friend" and "an engaging, elegant, and warm person."
Gaea Leinhardt, professor emerita at Pitt, called Fienberg her best friend and told The Washington Post that she had a way of putting teachers at ease when she visited their classrooms.
"She was very intellectual," Leinhardt said. "But also people would just always open up to her in a very easy way. She was an ideal observer."
Her husband, internationally celebrated statistician Stephen Fienberg, died in 2016.
Leinhardt told The Post that Fienberg had been especially involved at Tree of Life since her husband's death. "I just can't say how terribly sad I am that this person isn't in the world anymore."
Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township, shared a dentistry practice with his wife.
The two met as dental students at the University of Pittsburgh, The Post reports, and they volunteered with Catholic Charities' dental clinic. He was said to be an avid runner and had been going to services at Tree of Life more often recently.
Irving Younger, 69, ran a real estate business in Squirrel Hill for many years and was also a youth football and baseball coach.
Tina Prizner, who lived next door to Younger in the Mt. Washington neighborhood, remembered him as "the most wonderful dad and grandpa" and as a devoted member of his congregation.
"He went every day. He was an usher at his synagogue, and he never missed a day," she told TribLIVE. "He was a beautiful person, a beautiful soul."
NPR's Cameron Jenkins contributed to this report.
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