A mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue is bringing together residents and supporters throughout the city this week as they process a range of emotions — anger, grief, inspiration and renewed spirituality.
On Wednesday night, scores of University of Pittsburgh students and allies gathered in the rain in the Oakland neighborhood’s Schenley Plaza to rally against hate and gun violence.
“I hope that people walk away understanding that this isn’t just an issue we can think about in terms of anti-Semitism, or just in terms of gun violence. It’s the combination of the two. It’s what happens when violence and hate become one thing, it’s real and it takes people’s lives. And we won’t stand for it,” University of Pittsburgh sophomore Kathryn Fleisher said.
The funerals came the day after President Donald Trump and his family visited the synagogue to pay their respects and encountered demonstrators who condemned the visit. Local and state leaders also declined to accompany him on his travels.
National Jewish leaders, meanwhile, are encouraging Americans of every faith to follow up last week’s deadly shooting by attending Shabbat services in their own hometowns, in solidarity with Pittsburgh.
Funerals continue Wednesday
Mourners gathered Wednesday to bury some of the 11 people killed in the Saturday massacre. Those killed ranged in age from 54 to 97. Additional funerals are planned Thursday.
The funeral for Joyce Fienberg, 75, began Wednesday morning, while the funerals for Irving Younger, 69, and Melvin Wax, 87 — both big Pittsburgh Pirates fans — were held early afternoon.
Fienberg was a widow, a mother and a grandmother who enjoyed a long career as a University of Pittsburgh research specialist. But graduate students of her late husband also knew her as a warm host who welcomed them into her family’s home and sent them holiday cards for years after they left.
Irving Younger was a greeter at Tree of Life synagogue who met people with a warm handshake and showed them to their seats. It was a role that came naturally to the former real estate agent, who used to have an office on one of Squirrel Hill’s main thoroughfares. More recently, he enjoyed spending time at one of the sidewalk tables in front of a local coffee shop, where he appointed himself as greeter, his friend Barton Schachter said.
Melvin Wax’s greatest passions were his grandson, his religion and the Pittsburgh Pirates. His sister said they would joke with him that he should have been a rabbi.
On Tuesday, brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal were laid to rest, followed by Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz. Crowds packed the funerals, with long lines snaking through streets and busloads of people coming from synagogues nationwide. Pedestrians quietly watched as motorcades and hearses passed by, followed on foot by mourners dressed in black. Others held hands and wept.
The Rosenthal brothers were fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, and about 100 players and staff members paid their respects at the Rodef Shalom Congregation. Rabinowitz was remembered as caring. He became known in Pittsburgh as the “one to go to” for HIV care because he treated everyone with dignity and respect, former patient Michael Kerr said. His patients are among those grieving his death.
Neighbors protest visit
The community united to mourn what’s believed to be deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history, but was divided over Trump’s visit.
Trump came to Pittsburgh to pay his respects Tuesday despite a request by local leaders to stay away until the dead were buried. He was accompanied to Tree of Life by Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The President and first lady lit a candle inside the vestibule for the 11 victims. Outside, the Trumps participated in placing stones, a Jewish custom, atop 11 Star of David markers planted in the ground outside the synagogue. Melania Trump lay single white rosebuds.
Some neighbors in Squirrel Hill protested the visit and held signs saying, “Words Matter,” “Strength Through Unity,” “Watch Your Words” and “Hate Does Not Work in Our Neighborhoods.”
Not everyone was against Trump’s visit though.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was leading a service at Tree of Life when the shooting began, greeted the first couple at the synagogue and shared with them details of the horrific attack.
The Trumps also visited wounded police officers at a hospital, the widow of a victim and others.
Rabbi says congregants unbowed
The shooting struck at the heart of Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood and reverberated across the nation.
Myers said his congregants would be unbowed.
“We are Tree of Life, and as I said before to many, you can cut off some of the branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We will be back stronger and better than ever.”
An online fundraiser for those affected by the massacre had raised more than $944,000 by early Wednesday.
Two victims, a 70-year-old man and a 61-year-old woman, remain in the hospital. The man, who is in critical condition, suffered organ problems stemming from the shooting, but he is improving, said Dr. Donald Yealy, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s head of emergency medicine.
Outreach efforts extended to first responders as well. Those injured in the shooting include four law enforcement officers. One of them, a 40-year-old officer who directly confronted the gunman and suffered wounds to his extremities and pelvis, has been upgraded to stable condition. The other three officers have been discharged, a hospital spokeswoman said.x
The walls of the Zone 4 police station, blocks from the synagogue, were lined with handwritten notes from residents. Crowds gathered outside the precinct and chanted, “Thank you! Thank you!”
Muslim communities also raised more than $180,000 in three days for the shooting victims.
Suspect faces federal and state charges
Suspect Robert Bowers, 46, faces 44 federal charges, including counts of hate crimes that are potentially punishable by death. He made his first court appearance Monday. An investigator said Wednesday that the AR-15 rifle and three Glock handguns Bowers used in the attack were purchased legally.
Bowers was detained without bond, and his next court date is Thursday. The US attorney in Pittsburgh has started the process of seeking the death penalty.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said his office is looking into whether Bowers and others used social media platform Gab to incite violence based on evidence that the suspect posted anti-Semitic comments on the site. The state has not filed charges.
Andrew Torba, the CEO of Gab, defended the site. In an interview with CNN affiliate WBRE, he said he’s “horrified” the suspect used his site but said “there are bad people in the world, and they are on every social network.”
During the interview, he wore a hat that said, “Make Speech Free Again.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to give the correct age for Melvin Wax. He was 87.