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Tree of Life shooting victim Joyce Fienberg ‘will continue to watch over us’

November 23, 2018

Joyce Fienberg traveled the world during her lifetime, but she couldn’t dream of living anywhere other than her beloved Pittsburgh.

The Tree of Life Congregation, “became a refuge for her,” her son told mourners Wednesday during a funeral.

“Mom spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about other people’s needs, not hers,” Howard Fienberg said.

Hundreds of people turned out Wednesday morning for Joyce Fienberg’s funeral at Beth Shalom Congregation on Beacon Street. She was one of the 11 victims in Saturday’s shooting at the nearby Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

Outside of Beth Shalom, family members and friends hugged, while hundreds of attendees--who traveled from neighboring communities, New York and overseas--flooded into its second-floor synagogue. Haim Korsia, the chief rabbi of France attended along with rabbis from Washington, D.C. and other locales. Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers was also in attendance.

Fienberg, 75, who was born in Toronto, worked as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center from 1983 until her retirement in 2008. Her husband, Stephen Fienberg, was a statistician at Carnegie Mellon. He died in 2016.

Her family members recalled her as a dedicated attendee at Tree of Life who always put others’ needs ahead of her own.

“My heart hurts--my sister is dead, my sister was murdered,” said Fienberg’s brother, Robert Libman, of Toronto. “She was my role model all my life. Her thoughts and words were of pure intent. She gave life to all she came into contact with. In the end, a life of pure giving is a life well lived. In her death, we owe it to ourselves to try to measure up. Evil tries to shut off the light, but the light refuses to be dimmed.

“The light is still in our hearts--even our broken hearts.”

Anthony Fienberg, one of Joyce’s two sons, traveled with his family from Paris to attend the funeral. He and his brother, Howard Fienberg, stood together at Beth Shalom’s podium while speaking of their mother.

“She will continue to watch over us,” Anthony Fienberg said. “Those who crossed her path, it may have been a blessing to them. We miss [her] terribly, but have already started to build on her legacy.”

Howard Fienberg, who lives with his family in Virginia, said that both he and his brother had attempted to convince their mother to move closer to one of them after her husband died. But she told them that she planned to remain in Pittsburgh, where she attended Tree of Life and had many long-time friends.

Fienberg’s sister-in-law recalled a safari that she took with Joyce and Stephen, while Devorah Kurin--Fienberg’s niece--said that her aunt’s generosity was unmatched.

She told a story of how her aunt once not only bought season tickets to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for her and her husband, but she also offered to babysit during every performance, helped her to secure a parking space and sent directions and instructions on what time she should leave to make it to the performance on time.

“She cared about everybody,” Kurin said. “She cared and acted on it. She was a doer.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said that the ADL has seen a large increase in anti-Semitism over recent years.

“It’s an incredibly sad day for the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill,” he said outside of Beth Shalom. “Anti-Semitism has been a persistent problem for a long time. It’s called the ‘oldest hatred.’ Our elected officials and political candidates need to stop giving in to their worst impulses.”

Rabbi Daniel Yolkut, of the nearby Poale Zedeck synagogue, said that he attended the funeral service to show support for the Tree of Life community and the families of the shooting victims.

“We were all under attack last Saturday,” he said. “It could just as easily been one of us. We are no strangers to acts of terror. From across the country, Jews and gentiles have been dropping everything to come to Pittsburgh to help people they never met.”

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