Toronto-born woman among Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims

Joyce Fienberg, 75, formerly of Toronto, was one of 11 people killed inside the Tree of Life Synagogue after a gunman opened fire during worship services.

Joyce Fienberg, 75, grew up in Toronto, attended Holy Blossom Temple in Forest Hill

Joyce Fienberg was one of 11 people killed inside the Tree of Life Synagogue after a gunman opened fire during worship services on Saturday. (Supplied)

A Toronto-born woman is among the dead after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

On Sunday, Rabbi Yael Splansky, from the Holy Blossom Temple in Forest Hill, posted a Facebook tribute to Joyce Fienberg​, 75, saying she grew up at the temple.

"I did not know her. She was married here before my time. But I walk past her every day — her Confirmation Class photo is on our wall of honour," Splansky said.

She said she's "already hearing a lot of memories about her" from members of the congregation who knew her.

"I know there's a whole generation of Holy Blossom members who grew up here with her, who went to school with her and celebrated her wedding day here at Holy Blossom," Splansky said in an interview on Sunday.

Fienberg was one of 11 people killed inside the Tree of Life Synagogue after a gunman opened fire during worship services.

Robert Gregory Bowers allegedly killed eight men and three women inside the synagogue before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him, police say.

The victims' ages range from 54 to 97 and include a pair of brothers and a husband and wife.

The alleged gunman shouted anti-Semitic phrases during the shooting and an account under his name posted virulent anti-Semitic messages on social media filled with slurs and conspiracy theories.

'Trying to stay strong'

Deanna Levy, a spokeswoman for the temple, said the photo at Holy Blossom is of Fienberg when she was 16 years old.

"She has family members in our congregation and in Toronto. May her memory be a blessing," said Levy, adding that the temple had services Sunday morning.

"Right now we are just offering comfort to families.... We are just trying to stay strong."

Splansky said in her post that the morning's service was full.

"The sounds of Jews at prayer buoyed me," she added. "The faces of these good people strengthened my faith in the future."

Levy told CBC Toronto that Fienberg got married to fellow congregant Stephen Fienberg at Temple in 1965 and that the two moved to various cities in the U.S.

Joyce Fienberg, right, with her husband, Stephen Fienberg, who died in 2016. (Supplied)

Fienberg's brother, Thornhill resident Bob Libman, told CBC Toronto "the family is grief stricken."

"[She was] the most amazing and giving person," he said.

Libman and his wife are driving down to Pittsburgh, where Fienberg was a resident in a neighbourhood called Oakland.

Leader of the federal Opposition, Andrew Scheer, was one of many who paid tribute to Fienberg and the other victims on Twitter Sunday. 

"The murders, disturbing enough, are all the more so because of the heinous reality of anti-Semitism and the fact they were killed while in their place of worship," he said. "We must always remain vigilant about defending religious freedom and fighting anti-Semitism."

'Profoundly thoughtful human being'

On Sunday, the Learning Research & Development Center (LRDC) at the University of Pittsburgh said on its Facebook page that Fienberg was a former member and they were "appalled and saddened" by the attack.

LRDC said Fienberg was a research specialist at the centre, analyzing learning in classrooms and museums, from 1983 until her retirement in 2008.

She worked on several projects including studying the practices of highly effective teachers.

"Joyce was a cherished friend for many in LRDC. For those who knew her in LRDC she was an engaging, elegant, and warm person," the post read.

Fienberg earned her bachelor's degree in social psychology from the University of Toronto, according to research centre director Charles Perfetti. (Submitted)

Dr. Gaea Leinhardt, who was Fienberg's research partner for decades, said she is devastated by the death of her colleague and friend.

"Joyce was a magnificent, generous, caring, and profoundly thoughtful human being," she said.

The research centre's current director, Charles Perfetti, said Fienberg earned her bachelor's degree in social psychology from the University of Toronto, in her native Canada.

She brought a keen mind, engaging personality and "a certain elegance and dignity" to the centre, Perfetti said.

"One could have elevated conversations with her that were very interesting," even if they were brief, he said. "I was always impressed with her."

LRDC said her husband was a Carnegie Mellon University statistics and social science professor who died in 2016. His work was used in shaping national policies in forensic science, education and criminal justice.

It added that Fienberg had two sons, Anthony and Howard, and also had grandchildren. 

Meanwhile, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and its advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), are planning a community-wide vigil in honour of the victims of the tragedy. 

The organizers say the vigil will be held Monday at 7 p.m. at Mel Lastman Square and will bring the community together in a show of solidarity "as we try to grapple with this unspeakable act of anti-Semitism."

Toronto's Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan Wong will represent the city at the vigil as Mayor John Tory and his wife are not in the city, the mayor's office said Sunday. 

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press