A line of mourners stretched across the parking lot at Rodef Shalom Temple in Oakland this morning. Those gathered on the asphalt spoke softly. Some commented on the sudden touch of spring in the air. Others said nothing. They all wore somber colors and a look of disbelief.
Inside the building lay the body of 69-year-old Irving Younger, one of 11 shot to death on Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue just over a mile away. It’s being called the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history and has been charged as a hate crime. Younger’s was the seventh related burial in two days.
His funeral service was preceded by a visitation. Photos of Younger and his grandchild greeted mourners. Younger’s two children formed the receiving line, attendees said. Younger was a widower, his wife having died in 2007.
In his obituary, Younger’s children wrote: “Unfortunately, this tragedy is not an isolated occurrence but further indicates a breakdown in society that can only be fully healed through respectful engagement and action.”
It continued: “Dad would undoubtedly argue that loss of life through violence is never acceptable.”
Outside Rodef Shalom Temple stood a phalanx of police, part of what has now become a ubiquitous and heavy law enforcement presence in Pittsburgh’s East End and at funerals like this one.
“For some of us, even before it was a professional issue it was a personal issue,” Officer Donald Pasquarelli said. “We knew some of these people very well.” Pasquarelli declined to comment further out of respect for the families. He said Younger’s was his third Tree of Life funeral assignment in two days.
Younger was a greeter at Tree of Life; the first one in and often the last one out. He was a graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School and had owned a real estate business in Squirrel Hill where he lived before relocating to Mount Washington. He returned frequently.
Ted Chernoff of Greenfield said Younger would join him and a group of friends at the Coffee Tree Roasters on Forbes Avenue about three times a week. That had been their routine for years.
“He was a good guy. He was a failed comedian,” said Chernoff, who last saw Younger, or “Irv” as he knew him, a day or two before the shooting.
“I’m like in a fog now. I’m like in a daze,” Chernoff said following the conclusion of today’s funeral service. “I can’t believe it happened.”
Chernoff paused to collect his thoughts before continuing.
“You know, it’s not like a heart attack or cancer. You could deal with that, but this… it just doesn’t make any sense.”
A woman who said she knew Younger from a social group that met monthly at the Squirrel Hill Library watched from across the street as his casket was led from Rodef Shalom to a waiting hearse. She cried silently.
“I saw him two weeks ago, and he was very much alive and looked really healthy,” she said minutes before.
“He was very intelligent and had a good sense of humor. I asked him once how old he was and he said, ‘I’m just ‘Younger.’” She declined to be identified in this article.
Deb Desjardins of Edgewood, an attendee at today’s visitation, said both her children and Younger’s went to the Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School at Pitt. She didn’t know Younger personally and had never met him but said she was compelled to pay her respects.
“The pictures in there of him with his grandchild were…” she struggled and ultimately failed to find the word.
“I was with a lot of Falk people who knew [Younger] and his children and so you know they’re just talking about what a wonderful person he was and what a wonderful family it is. Falk is a small school, a tight-knit community.”
Desjardins added of the Younger children: “I heard someone say their whole class was inside.”
Stacy Haas of Beechview said she was distantly related to Younger through marriage. When his name first appeared in news reports, she remembers hoping it was a mistake.
“I hoped it was a typo, and of course it wasn’t.”
Haas, a lab technician at UPMC, said she was acquainted with other Tree of Life victims as well, including Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, who also worked for the health system and who was buried Tuesday.
“The whole thing, I don’t think it’s set in yet,” she explained after Younger’s service.
Nearby, the hearse carrying his casket began to make its way up Fifth Avenue, escorted by a group of officers. The funerals continue tomorrow.