Pittsburgh comes together to mourn victims, and protesters turn their backs on Trump

PITTSBURGH — As the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill began to bury its dead Tuesday from the massacre in the Tree of Life synagogue Saturday, President Trump paid his respects, in a visit few had requested and many opposed. His motorcade was greeted by a demonstration of hundreds marchers calling to one another to “turn your back” on the president.

A line stretched far down the block for the funeral of Dr. David Rabinowitz, one of the 11 killed by a gunman whom police have identified as a 46-year-old man, whose social media posts indicate he was enraged by what he perceived as Jewish support for immigration. Rabinowitz, 77, was known for his compassionate treatment of AIDS victims. The service for brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal also drew a large crowd a mile and a half away. There was a heavy police presence outside the Jewish Community Center where Rabinowitz’s service was held, with officers from the Pittsburgh Police Department and nearby Carnegie Mellon University surrounding the facility.

Trump, who spent three and a half hours in the city, including a visit to a pop-up memorial to the victims and to wounded police officers recovering in the hospital, had been asked by Mayor Bill Peduto to delay the trip until all the services were concluded. City councilor Erika Strassburger, who lives near the Tree of Life and drives past the building every day, said her constituents had contacted her to oppose the trip.

“There are many, many constituents who’ve reached out to me by phone and email concerned that the president’s visit today will add to the trauma of the community and many community members,” said Strassburger early Tuesday afternoon before Trump’s arrival. “I won’t say that necessarily speaks for every single person in my district, that’s just what I’ve heard.”

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Strassburger’s constituents weren’t the only ones against Trump’s visit. Local officials — Peduto, county executive Rich Fitzgerald, Gov. Tom Wolf, and Sen. Bob Casey and Sen. Pat Toomey (all Democrats save for Toomey) — declined to join. Trump also failed to convince congressional leadership from either party to take the trip. Trump spoke with family members of at least one victim, according to Dr. Donald Yealy, but others reportedly rebuffed offers from the White House to meet the president, who has been blamed by commentators for inspiring violence with his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his demonization of “globalists,” a word that has been historically associated with anti-Semitism. His remarks shortly after the shooting that the gunman could have been deterred by an armed guard were also controversial. (Four police officers were injured in the apprehension of the shooter.)

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Deadly shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh
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Deadly shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh
A SWAT team arrives at the Tree of Life Synagogue inPittsburgh, Pa. where a shooter opened fire injuring multiple people, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
First responders arrive at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.m, where a shooter opened fire Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
La presencia policial alrededor de una sinagoga en Pittsburgh donde un individuo efectuó disparos el 27 de octubre del 2018. (Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
People gather on a corner near the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., where a shooter opened fire Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, injuring multiple people. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
First responders surround the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., where a shooter opened fire Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, wounding three police officers and causing "multiple casualties" according to police. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
First responders surround the Tree of Life Synagogue, rear center, where a shooter opened fire Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, wounding three police officers and causing "multiple casualties" according to Police. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
First responders surround the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, wounding three police officers and causing "multiple casualties" according to Police. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
First responders surround the Tree of Life Synagogue, rear center, where a shooter opened fire Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, wounding three police officers and causing "multiple casualties" according to Police. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
First responders surround the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Polikce respond to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue on Wildins Avenue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa., on Saturday, October 27, 2018. (Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
A man holds his head as he is escorted out of the Tree of Life Congregation by police following a shooting at the Pittsburg synagogue, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
Law enforcement run with a person on a stretcher at the scene where multiple people were shot, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
Law enforcement officers secure the scene where multiple people were shot, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: A former rabbi talks about his congregation near the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Residents talk to the media near the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Residents check their phones near the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police rapid response team members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: Police members respond to the site of a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to reports, at least 12 people were shot, 4 dead and three police officers hurt during the incident. The shooter surrendered to authorities and was taken into custody. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
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Trump was ultimately joined by his daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, chief of staff John Kelly and Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer.

The tributes throughout the city were both large and small, as Pittsburghers sought ways to express their grief and solidarity. So many businesses had signs in their window that read “Our hearts cry for Shalom [‘peace’]” that it was surprising to come across one that didn’t. Sandwich boards usually used to announce the day’s specials were repurposed to offer condolences. The movie theater in the heart of town shifted its marquee, shoving the latest Ryan Gosling and Keira Knightley features down so they could spell out “PGH IS STRONGER THAN HATE.”

Religious groups in the area did their best to help and show respect to the Jewish community. Crowd funding efforts from Muslim groups have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Tree of Life family. The Sixth Presbyterian Church — where Fred Rogers, a Pittsburgh resident most of his life, had served as minister — held a vigil for the victims and allowed the Jewish congregations to gather there.

The sports teams joined in as well. On Tuesday evening the Penguins played their first home game since the tragedy. They scrapped the planned Halloween theme in exchange for a collection of donations, a moment of silence and a special patch, the normal logo over the Star of David along with the message “Stronger Than Hate”. 100 members of the Steeler organization – including head coach Mike Tomlin, a Squirrel Hill resident – attended the Rosenthal brothers’ funeral on Tuesday morning.

Makeshift memorials appeared at the Tree of Life building, just beyond the cordon of police tape marking an active crime scene. Eleven Stars of David bore the names of the victims, and bouquets and candles accumulated beneath them. There were also messages — a child had written “Thank you for being the helpers in our neighborhood” on the front of a homemade card — and because this is Pittsburgh there was a Terrible Towel among the tributes. A small crowd milled around, sharing embraces before the television news cameras. A few prayed or read silently from the Torah while others thanked the officers on duty. A woman said her daughter’s school had cancelled a planned active shooter drill scheduled for Monday.

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Pittsburgh Steelers, fans honor victims of synagogue shooting
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Pittsburgh Steelers, fans honor victims of synagogue shooting
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: A fan holds up a sign to honor the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue during the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on October 28, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Steelers fans sit behind a banner with a Star of David beside their Steelers blanket as they watch the teams warm up before an NFL football game between the Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh. There was a deadly shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
A Pittsburgh Steelers logo with one of the hypocycloids changed to a Star of David is on a banner at Heinz Field for an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers added the logo in respect for the victims of a deadly shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Fans stand above a banner with a Pittsburgh Steelers logo that has one of the hypocycloids changed to a Star of David at Heinz Field for an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers added the logo in respect for the victims of a deadly shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A Pittsburgh Steelers logo with one of the hypocycloids changed to a Star of David is on a banner at Heinz Field for an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers added the logo in respect for the victims of a deadly shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Oct 28, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Fans hold signs at Heinz field to honor the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue before the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers fans bow their head for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue before the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers players bow their head for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; The scoreboard is blank during a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Tree of Life Synagog shooting prior to the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; A sign in honor of the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting at Heinz Field before the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Cleveland Browns. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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After the funerals mourners gathered to join in prayer and song and the Jewish tradition of tearing a black cloth or ribbon, a symbolic rending of garments. They were mournful and also defiant, insisting that the evil that had affected their community would not prevail. By mid-afternoon the area was cleared for Trump to visit, and along with his wife lay a flower at each of the 11 stars.

As Trump’s plane landed at Pittsburgh International Airport, protesters gathered at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Beechwood Boulevard, a few blocks from the synagogue. Many carried placards saying “I signed the letter,” referring to a petition asking Trump to stay away until he renounced white nationalism and stopped targeting minority populations. Other signs read “Words matter,” and specifically Pittsburgh references — “We do bridges not walls” — referring to the three rivers that run through the city, and an insult in the English-adjacent dialect known fondly as Pittsburghese (“HEY POTUS YINZ A JAGOFF”).

The crowd swelled as hundreds began to march, singing psalms and moving through the tree-lined streets toward the Tree of Life on an idyllic fall day drenched in sun. As marchers stopped for a final ceremony to honor the victims, they were interrupted by the sirens of the White House motorcade, which cut through the crowd as organizers shouted “Turn your back.”

Afterwards they continued the march, slowing to cheer and chant “Thank you” to first responders who were at a nearby fire hall. Some in the crowd ran over to shake hands and hug the officers, some of whom were among the first on the scene Saturday morning. Trump’s time in Pittsburgh concluded with a visit to the officers who were injured in Saturday’s attack, stopping at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland.

When considering how to deal with the grief, many rallygoers suggested the response should be at the voting booth next week, as signs that read “Vote” were common among the crowd along with one man who had simply written the word across his forehead. The ballots cast in this community are unlikely to affect what are mostly safe districts for Democrats, but a large turnout will help Casey and Wolf, who are up for reelection (and comfortably ahead in the polls). They could also make a difference in 2020 as Trump vies for a repeat victory in a state he won by 44,000 votes.

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Victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh
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Victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh

Jerry Rabinowitz reportedly died running into the gunfire to help those who had been injured, according to The Independent. Rabinowtiz was also honoured posthumously by The AIDS Memorial, which remembered him on social media for his work with HIV/AIDS patients in Pittsburgh. The post featured a person with HIV/AIDS describing Rabinowitz as being “known in the community for keeping us alive the longest,” saying he often held HIV/AIDS patients’ hands without gloves.

(Photo: Instagram/TheAIDSMemorial)

Rose Mallinger, 97 May her memory be a blessing https://t.co/F7d0AGtAU8
Brothers Cecil & David Rosenthal @ACHIEVA: Cecil’s laugh was infectious. David was so kind and had such a gentle s… https://t.co/17B73Dwcwk

This undated photo provided by Barry Werber shows Melvin Wax. Wax was killed when a gunman opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.

(Courtesy of Barry Werber via AP)

Bernice and Sylvan Simon, 84 & 86, were married at Tree of Life in the 1950s. Bernice was a retired nurse and Sylva… https://t.co/AQk7kRrnx7
'A very special person:' Canadian Joyce Fienberg killed in #Pittsburgh: https://t.co/M7fsuz7VY3 https://t.co/1Xo0orpI3s
Richard Gottfried and his wife, Peg, were of different faiths, but shared a mission to help the neediest. Married 3… https://t.co/5cGsjQWHfk
The identities of those killed and injured in a mass shooting at Squirrel Hill's Tree of Life Synagogue this mornin… https://t.co/fA3BRuojXi
Irving Younger, 69 Younger was a real estate agent, the president of a local business association, a voluteer at… https://t.co/1b79TCHuqH
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If the gunman’s goal was to divide this community or intimidate them out of helping the refugees that had inspired his attack he could not have been more of a failure. Every race, color and creed came together in the wake of the attack to denounce hate. And as far as the 130-year-old refugee resettlement organization whose works motivated the shooter, they were already holding meetings in the community about how to move forward with their work.

Rabbi Jamie Gibson of nearby Temple Sinai said the gunman’s anti-immigrant focus had done little to shake the city’s belief in diversity.

“I think the community is firmly supportive of refugees and immigrants to come to this country,” said Gibson. “Squirrel Hill is a marvelous example of a success story, that diversity enriches us all as opposed to frightening us or making us feel less safe I actually feel better knowing I can walk down Forbes Avenue at any given moment and hear Chinese or Arabic or French or Japanese or English or Russian. We are intensely curious about each other and each other’s stories for their differences but even more for their commonality.”

“The unity we’ve seen is the light in the darkness,” said Strassburger of the community she represents. “It speaks to the relationships that just existed not just in Squirrel Hill but among various religions, among various organizations throughout the city and there wasn’t a need to build that as soon as the tragedy happened. Those relationships between the Jewish community, the Christian and Catholic community, the Muslim community and many, many others not just distinguished by their religion really coming together to support each other.”

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