President Donald Trump, first lady Melania, Ivanka and Jared Kushner were met with protestors on their visit to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
PITTSBURGH – Overwhelming sorrow and an uneasy political controversy enveloped the city Tuesday as residents buried their dead and President Donald Trump was greeted by hundreds of protesters near the site of Saturday’s massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Demonstrators cried “Leave Pittsburgh, leave Pennsylvania” and hoisted signs that read “Words Matter” close to where the president and first lady Melania Trump placed white roses and stones from the White House on a memorial to the victims of the rampage. The president would later visit victims at a hospital.
The visit by the president came on a sunny autumn day in this rugged western Pennsylvania city struggling to come to grips with an attack by a gunman who shouted anti-Semitic epithets. Brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal and acclaimed physician Jerry Rabinowitz were among the first of 11 elderly Jewish worshippers to be buried.
Trump critics have blamed his sometimes-rancorous rhetoric targeting migrants, political foes and the media for sharply dividing the nation and prompting people adrift on society’s fringes to believe violence is a justifiable recourse.
In the upscale Squirrel Hill neighborhood where Saturday’s carnage unfolded, Zoe Feinstein, 28, stopped by Pamela’s Diner before attending Rabinowitz’s funeral. She described him as a dear friend and dedicated doctor.
Feinstein said she was not happy Trump was coming.
“It’s incredibly disrespectful,” she said through tears. She said the synagogue attack was “the direct result of the hate he has incited.”
Mo Coleman, 86, wasn’t as vocal in his dislike of the president’s plans to visit.
“He is a president,” said Coleman, director emeritus of the Institute of Politics of the University of Pittsburgh. “He has a right to be here. His timing is just bad.”
Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, had suggested that Trump consider the families of the victims and wait at least until the funerals were concluded before making the trip.
“Our attention and our focus is going to be on them,” Peduto said.
None of the top four congressional leaders traveled with the president and first lady to Pittsburgh, despite invitations from the White House. The state’s U.S. senators, Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, also didn’t meet with the president. Neither did Peduto nor county Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
A phalanx of local liberal Jewish leaders had signed a letter urging Trump not to come “until you fully denounce white nationalism.”
Trump offered to visit with the family of Daniel Stein, 71, whose funeral also was Tuesday. Stein’s nephew, Stephen Halle, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the family declined.
Even Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who said Trump was welcome to visit, said he expected to be busy with the families of the victims and had no plans to meet with the president.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Jewish activist group If Not Now Pittsburgh hosted the first of two rallies in Squirrel Hill, an event next to the Jewish Community Center filled mostly with young people who wore black to symbolize mourning. Many vocally opposed Trump’s visit.
Organizer Diana Clarke began the rally by not only describing Saturday’s attack but also the shooting death of two African Americans by a white gunman at a Kroger supermarket in Kentucky, slayings that appeared to be racially motivated.
Pittsburgh resident Dani Klein, 39, said he came to the rally to “be with my people in mourning.” He also wanted to protest what he viewed as Trump “taking advantage” of the mourners’ grief with his presence.
“He’s not welcome to Pittsburgh in general,” Klein said, “but definitely not today.”
At the second Squirrel Hill rally, organized by Bend the Arc, hundreds of people gathered on Beachwood Boulevard. The event took place outside a building that once housed the New Light congregation, which lost three members in Saturday’s attack.
While a number of signs targeted Trump and his immigration policy, one included a picture of beloved Pittsburgh icon Mr. Rodgers with the words “Love thy neighbor.” Other signs read: “Word. Watch your words” and “Nazis will not replace us.”
Whatever divisions existed with the president, solidarity was the theme for the victims, their families and their faith.
Along Forbes Avenue, restaurants showed their support. Signs read “Stronger than hate,” and the gold Star of David was everywhere. One Chinese restaurant posted a letter on its doors that expressed its sorrow for those who died and its appreciation for the Squirrel Hill Jewish community.
“It is a unique place that combines the best of Pittsburgh’s traditions with the vitality of newcomers and immigrants,” the letter read. “The Jewish community is a welcoming neighborhood and has been a good friend. Squirrel Hill is a product of their vision and the many decades of hard work.”
Long lines formed at the funeral for Rabinowitz at the Jewish Community Center, where police officers in four vehicles monitored the proceedings.
A rabbi told those assembled that Rabinowitz left a Bible study room as bullets rang out and rushed to the sanctuary, probably to help the wounded, which reflected his compassionate nature.
“And that is how he lost his life,” said Lisa Parker, director of the Center for Bioethics and Health Law at the University of Pittsburgh. Rabinowitz mentored her students.
Not far away, hundreds of mourners, most of them dressed in black, converged on the city’s oldest and largest synagogue, Rodef Shalom, to pay last respects to the Rosenthal brothers.
Tree of Life remained a closed-off crime scene Tuesday. A small memorial outside the synagogue provided messages of hope written in yellow, pink and blue chalk: “We are one as a whole. This is our city.”
Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: Eliza Collins; Max Londberg, Cincinnati Enquirer; The Associated Press
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