Pittsburgh mourns synagogue shooting victims as protesters await Trump

PITTSBURGH, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Grieving families and friends gathered on Tuesday for the first funerals for victims of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, as protesters prepared for a visit by U.S. President Donald Trump amid accusations his rhetoric had encouraged anti-Semitic extremists.

Nearly 2,000 mourners from across the United States came to offer condolences to the relatives of David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59, at the Rodef Shalom synagogue in the Pennsylvania city as police officers stood outside.

The two brothers were among the 11 mostly elderly congregants shot to death on Saturday at the nearby Tree of Life synagogue.

Funerals were also being held for Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, and Daniel Stein, 71.

"Words can’t describe it. It’s so tragic. The world we live in leaves individuals who are so deranged to take actions like this," Bob Farrow, who knows members of the Rosenthal family, said outside the Rodef Shalom temple.

"Everyone wants to show their support of the Jewish community," said Farrow, who is not Jewish.

These are the victims of the deadly attack: 

9 PHOTOS
Victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh
See Gallery
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
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Robert Bowers, 46, is accused of storming into the Tree of Life synagogue yelling "All Jews must die" and opening fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there.

A federal judge on Monday ordered Bowers held without bail.

The attack, which the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) described as the deadliest targeting Jews in the United States, has heightened a national debate over Trump's rhetoric, which critics say has contributed to a surge in white nationalist and neo-Nazi activity.

The Trump administration has rejected the notion that he has encouraged far-right extremists who have embraced him.

Trump's visit comes just seven days before elections that will determine the balance of power in Congress. The Republicans currently control both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Republican president said he would visit hospitalized police officers and other people wounded in the shooting.

"I'm just going to pay my respects," Trump told Fox News on Monday night. "I would have done it even sooner, but I didn’t want to disrupt anymore than they already had disruption."

The top four U.S. congressional leaders - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi - declined to join Trump in Pittsburgh, two sources familiar with the planning said.

An aide to McConnell said the Kentucky Republican was unable to attend because of a conflict with events in his home state.

An aide to Ryan said he was not able to travel to Pittsburgh on such short notice.

The ADL, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of hate, said last week that far-right extremists had stepped up "online propaganda offensives" in the run-up to the elections to attack and to try to intimidate Jews.

"I spend half of each year in Germany. I have seen how another country with a much tougher background has dealt with this, starting at ground zero," said Walter Jacob, a rabbi at Rodef Shalom.

'YOU ARE NOT WELCOME'

Members of Pittsburgh's Jewish community said they would protest against Trump on Tuesday afternoon.

"The gunman who tore apart our neighborhood believed your lies about the immigrant caravan in Mexico," protest organizers said in an announcement, referring to a group of migrants who are trekking through Mexico toward the United States. "He believed anti-Semitic lies that Jews were funding the caravan"

In a social media post on Saturday, Bowers, the suspect, had accused the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a group that helps refugees, of bringing "invaders in that kill our people."

The protest announcement echoed an open letter from a group of local Jewish leaders who told Trump: "You are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism."

More than 43,000 people have signed the letter, organized and posted online by the Pittsburgh chapter of Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization opposed to what it calls "the immoral agenda of the Trump administration and the Republican Party."

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he was also against Trump's visit because it would coincide with the first funerals.

Peduto, a Democrat, said Trump should wait until all the funerals were held, adding that the visit and additional security measures entailed would distract attention from the "priority" of burying the dead.

On Monday, a U.S. magistrate judge ordered Bowers held without bond. The onetime truck driver, a Pittsburgh resident who frequently posted anti-Semitic material online and was described by neighbors as a loner, was charged with 29 federal felony counts. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Prosecutors have said they are treating the mass shooting as a hate crime.

In addition to the 11 worshipers who were killed, six people, including four police officers, were wounded before Bowers was shot by police and surrendered.

RELATED: See memorials for the victims of the shooting: 

8 PHOTOS
Memorial for victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
See Gallery
Memorial for victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
People hold candles as they gather for a vigil in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A crowd attends a memorial service at the Sixth Presbyterian Church in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh for the victims of the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire earlier, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A crowd gathers at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh during a memorial vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire earlier in the day Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A crowd holds candles on the lawn of the Sixth Presbyterian Church at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh during a memorial vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire earlier in the day, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A crowd gathers at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh during a memorial vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire earlier in the day, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A couple embrace at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, during a memorial vigil for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire, killing multiple people and wounding others, including several police officers, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
A young boy holds a sign at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh during a memorial vigil for the victims of the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue where a shooter opened fire, killing multiple people and wounding others, including several police officers, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Holding candles, a group of girls wait for the start of a memorial vigil at the intersection of Murray Ave. and Forbes Ave. in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire, killing multiple people and wounding others, including sevearl police officers, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan in Washington Writing by Paul Simao Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Read Full Story