On Day Of Mourning, Jewish Pittsburgh Braces For Divisive Trump
If the man who massacred 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday had arrived an hour later, Stan Angrist’s wife would have been in the line of fire. Instead, Angrist buried his close friend and his personal physician, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, on Tuesday afternoon.
The funeral drew hundreds of mourners. It took place just hours before President Trump was scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh, in a controversial visit that has thrust national politics into the immediate aftermath of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
“I think he should stay away,” Angrist said of the president. “Given his history, I think that would be the best thing he could do.”
Trump’s press secretary announced Monday that the president would visit the city, despite a request from the city’s mayor, Bill Peduto, that the president delay his visit. While some in the local Jewish community say they will welcome Trump, including the rabbi of the synagogue where the shooting took place, others have demanded he stay out of Pittsburgh.
In Pittsburgh on Tuesday, amid the funerals for three victims of the attack, some mourners confronted the impending visit with resignation.
“If he’s coming… to mourn with us that’s fine,” said Harold Caplan, as he prepared to leave his home for what he said was the first of many funerals he expected to attend in the coming days. Caplan is treasurer of New Light Congregation, one of the three congregations that shared space in the synagogue building. Three of its members were murdered in the attack. “I don’t want it to be a political thing,” Caplan said of the president’s visit.
Trump is scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh at 3:45 P.M. His schedule for the day is not yet public, though he is expected to visit the synagogue building. According to CNN, Republicans Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, and Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, all turned down offers from the White House to accompany Trump on his visit.
Local progressive Jewish activists have condemned the visit since it was first announced. “We certainly don’t want Trump to feel welcome, should he come to Squirrel Hill,” said Ella Mason, an activist with the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow who lives nearby the Tree of Life congregation.
Pittsburgh IfNotNow activists are organizing a public mourning ritual shortly before Trump is expected to arrive in Pittsburgh. Local activists with another progressive Jewish group, Bend the Arc, which released a letter days ago telling Trump not to come to town, are organizing their own action an hour later.
“He needs to take responsibility for the fact that his dogwhistle politics has helped enable the kind of violent action we saw at Tree of Life,” Mason said.
Tree of Life’s rabbi, Jeffrey Myers, who was leading the service during the massacre, told CNN on Monday that the president is welcome. “I’m a citizen. He’s my president. He is certainly welcome,” Myers told CNN.
Yet others directly affected by the attack have turned the president away.
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the family of one of the victims, Daniel Stein, turned down an offer from the White House to meet with the president over comments the president made immediately after the shooting that seemed to blame the synagogue for not having armed security on premisis.
“Everybody feels that they were inappropriate,” Stein’s nephew, Stephen Halle, told the Washington Post on Tuesday. “He was blaming the community.”
The local town councilwoman who represents the district where the synagogue is located, Erika Strassburger, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that her constituents had told her “loud and clear” that they did not want the president to come to their neighborhood.
The day’s two funerals, for brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, and for Rabinowitz, were over by early afternoon.
Angrist said that the funeral for Rabinowitz was held at the local Jewish Community Center, and overflowed the space set aside for it. “The main room, which they thought would handle everybody, probably holds 250 [people], by the time we got here it was full,” Angrist said. “It was a huge crowd, maybe 600, 800 people.”
A lifelong friend of Rabinowitz’s spoke at the funeral, as did his partner in his medical practice, and the president of the congregation. Rabinowitz was a member of Congregation Dor Hadash, a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation that shared space with Tree of Life. One other member of Tree of Life is currently in critical condition, according to Angrist.
Dor Hadash’s services on Saturday morning usually begin at 10 A.M., with a text study at 11 A.M. Angrist’s wife’s practice is to arrive for the text study. On Saturday, she received a phone call at 10:30 A.M. telling her that the building was surrounded by police, and she should stay away.
“If the shooter had gone an hour later, I think my wife would have been there,” Angrist said. “As would a lot more people.”