Pittsburgh’s Jewish community began burying its dead Tuesday after the synagogue massacre, holding funerals for a beloved family doctor, a pillar of the congregation, and two 50-something brothers known as the Rosenthal “boys.”
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, arrived for a visit to the city, despite objections from some community members who blamed him for the bloodshed and said his presence would take the focus off the victims. Pennsylvania’s governor and the mayor of Pittsburgh declined to join him.
Thousands of mourners jammed two large synagogues and a third, undisclosed site for the first in a weeklong series of funerals, taking part in what has become an all-too-familiar American ritual in this age of mass shootings.
Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, Daniel Stein and Cecil and David Rosenthal were among 11 people killed at the Tree of Life synagogue Saturday in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. Robert Gregory Bowers, a 46-year-old truck driver who authorities say raged against Jews, was arrested on federal hate-crime charges that could bring the death penalty.
With Tree of Life still cordoned off as a crime scene, more than 1,000 people poured into Rodef Shalom, one of the city’s oldest and largest synagogues, to mourn the Rosenthal brothers, ages 59 and 54.
The two intellectually disabled men were “beautiful souls” who had “not an ounce of hate in them — something we’re terribly missing today,” Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, a survivor of the massacre, said at their funeral.
Myers, his voice quivering, told the Rosenthals’ parents and other family members: “The entire world is sharing its grief with you, so you don’t walk alone.”
The brothers were widely known as “the boys,” the Rosenthals’ sister, Diane Hirt, noted. “They were innocent like boys, not hardened like men,” she said.
She said Cecil — a gregarious man with a booming voice who was lightheartedly known as the mayor of Squirrel Hall and the “town crier” for the gossip he managed to gather — would have especially enjoyed the media attention this week, a thought that brought laughter from the congregation.
Rabinowitz’s funeral was held at the Jewish Community Center in the city’s Squirrel Hill section, the historic Jewish neighborhood where the rampage took place. Two police vehicles were posted at a side door and two at the main entrance.
A line stretched around the block as mourners — some in white medical coats, some wearing yarmulkes, black hats or head scarves — passed beneath the blue Romanesque arches into the brick building.
The 66-year-old Rabinowitz was a go-to doctor for HIV patients in the epidemic’s early and desperate days, a physician who always hugged his patients as they left his office.
“A lot of people are feeling really angry about this. A lot of rage built up inside about this, because of it being a hate crime. Don’t get me wrong; I do. But I’m so overwhelmed with sadness right now that I can’t even be angry right now,” said Robin Faulkner, whose family had seen Rabinowitz for 30 years and counted him as a dear friend. “It’s just such a loss. Just tragic.”
A private funeral was also held for Stein, the 71-year-old men’s club president at Tree of Life.
The other victims’ funerals have been scheduled through Friday.
Before Trump’s arrival, some accused him of fomenting racial and ethnic hostility and urged him to stay away.
While Myers, the Tree of Life rabbi, told CNN on Monday that the president is “certainly welcome,” Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto asked Trump not to come while the city was burying its dead. Peduto and Gov. Tom Wolf, a fellow Democrat, planned to skip the president’s visit.
“Community leaders expressed to the governor that they did not feel it was appropriate for Trump to come, so the governor made a decision not to join him on his visit out of respect for the families and the community,” said Beth Melena, Wolf’s campaign spokeswoman.
Among the mourners at the Rosenthal brothers’ funeral was Kate Lederman. She grew up in the Tree of Life synagogue and celebrated all of her milestones there. She recently gave birth.
“I was named there, bat mitzvahed there, married there. And my whole life was in that synagogue. Same with my father. And we knew Cecil and David. We knew all of them. This should be a week of pure joy having a baby, but it’s a week of terror,” she said. “We were supposed to have our baby naming there, but we’re going to do it at home.”
Also paying his respects was Dr. Abe Friedman, who typically sat in the back row of Tree of Life with the Rosenthal brothers but was late to the service on Saturday and was not there when the gunman opened fire.
As he stood in line at the funeral with his wife, he wondered why he had been spared.
“Why did things fall into place for me?” he asked. “I usually sit in the back row. In the last row, everyone got killed.”