Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Though "literally every person told you to not fucking come," in the words of one furious resident, our white nationalist president defiantly, pointlessly turned up in Pittsburgh Tuesday even as mourners buried the first three of the Tree of Life massacre victims and thousands of protesters took to the streets to proclaim "Words Matter" and "President Hate Leave Our State." Though desperate White House staff reportedly called top state and city officials, including the Trump-resistant mayor, and lied to each that the others had agreed to join the president, none of them met Trump, Melania, Ivanka or Jared, probably because, as protest organizers made clear, "The President’s visit...much like his ideas and his presidency, is unwelcome in our city and in our country."
Residents were particularly incensed the visit intruded on the first victims' funerals, both of which drew large, grief-stricken crowds. The Jewish Community Center held the service for Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, a family doctor known for his early, compassionate care for AIDS patients; witnesses said he was in a study room when he heard the gunfire, at which point he ran into the sanctuary to help and was killed. The service for Cecil and David Rosenthal, 59 and 54, was at Congregation Rodef Shalom. The brothers, who were known as "the boys" and lived together in a home for the developmentally disabled, were much-loved regulars of the neighborhood and synagogue; one mourner described them as "pure souls" with "not an ounce of hate in them."
Protesters both honored the day's somber mood and voiced anger at the unholy encroachment into it by a president whose "words, actions and policies have espoused and emboldened the type of violence and hatred our community so tragically endured." Two large demonstrations, which eventually converged, included crowds of Jews who recited the Mourners Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, sang Mi Sheiberach, the prayer for healing, with arms wrapped around each other, and distributed food for Shiva. Amidst and around them, others chanted and carried signs - "No Place For Hate," "Denounce White Nationalism," "We Do Bridges Not Walls," "Safety Means All of Us." Though police kept crowds a block from Tree of Life, their shouts carried as Trump briefly stopped there. When his motorcade began to leave, it evidently had to re-route to avoid the protests; as sirens announced his departure, a chant of "Turn your backs!" rose. As one, people turned away and took a knee.
Later, a leader of Bend the Arc, a group of progressive Jews whose letter to Trump declaring him unwelcome gathered almost 80,000 signatures, reaffirmed that message after the vile travesty of his visit. Her group, Tammy Hepps told CNN, "represents tens of thousands of Jews, Americans and people around the world who feel that the blood of these victims is on President Trump’s hands." Down the street from the Jewish Community Center, meanwhile, someone had written “vote” on a garbage can lid. Many at the protests viewed the word as a key rallying cry. One resident recalled that, at a Sunday service a week before the massacre, Jerry Rabinowitz had spoken to the three congregations housed in the Tree of Life building. The good doctor, he said, had a one-word message for them: "Vote."
A mourner at one of the first funerals. AP photo