Pittsburgh’s Jewish community began burying its dead Tuesday, holding the first in a weeklong series of funerals for the 11 people gunned down in a congregation in the bloodiest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, planned to visit later in the day to offer his condolences, despite objections from some community members. Pennsylvania’s governor and the mayor of Pittsburgh said they would not join him.
With the Tree of Life congregation still cordoned off as a crime scene, the funerals were being held at nearby synagogues and other Jewish sites.
The casket of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, a family physician known for his caring and kindness, was brought to the Jewish Community Center in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood for the first funeral. 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, an American flag nearby fluttering at half-staff.
“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.”
Less than two miles away, hundreds of mourners dressed mostly in black converged on the city’s oldest and largest congregation, Rodef Shalom, for the funeral of Cecil and David Rosenthal, intellectually disabled brothers in their 50s.
Among the mourners was Kate Lederman. She grew up in the Tree of Life congregation 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.”
A funeral was also set Tuesday for Daniel Stein, a man seen as part of the core of his congregation.
The other victims’ funerals have been scheduled through Friday in a week of mourning, anguish and questions about the rampage that authorities say was carried out by a gunman who raged against Jews.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump planned to visit the city in the afternoon, despite complaints in some quarters that his presence would take the focus off the dead and would be unseemly.
While Tree of Life spiritual leader Jeffrey Myers told CNN 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.
The man arrested in the massacre, Robert Gregory Bowers, appeared briefly Monday in federal court, where he was ordered held without bail for a preliminary hearing on Thursday. The 46-year-old truck driver faces hate-crime charges that could bring the death penalty.
The attack killed some of the congregation’s most dedicated members. The oldest victim was 97-year-old Rose Mallinger. At 54, David Rosenthal was the youngest.
He and Cecil, 59, lived at a building run by Achieva, a disability-services organization that had worked with the brothers for years. David had worked with Achieva’s cleaning service and at Goodwill Industries, and Cecil was hoping to start a job soon at a workplace-services company, Achieva spokeswoman Lisa Razza told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
David was quieter than Cecil, who had a sociable personality that earned him a reputation as “the honorary mayor of Squirrel Hill,” a historic Jewish enclave in Pittsburgh.
“They were lovely souls, and they lived for the congregation” at Tree of Life, said Brian Schreiber, a member who is also president of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Rabinowitz, 66, had a family medicine practice and was affiliated with UPMC Shadyside hospital. He was a physician who “always hugged us as we left his office,” said Michael Kerr, who credits Rabinowitz with helping him survive.
“Thank you,” Kerr wrote on social media, “for having always been there during the most terrifying and frightening time of my life. … You are one of my heroes.”
Stein, 71, was a visible member of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, where he was the men’s club president at Tree of Life.
Stein’s nephew Steven Halle told the Tribune-Review that his uncle had a dry sense of humor and a willingness to help anybody.
“He was somebody that everybody liked,” Halle said.