THREE MORE FUNERALS AS PITTSBURGH MOURNS
▶ Attack has become the focus of a fierce debate on white nationalism
Pittsburgh was to hold three more funerals yesterday for Jewish victims of a shooting rampage at a synagogue, which has become the focus of a fierce political debate about white nationalism and anti-Semitism.
Eleven worshippers were gunned down on Saturday morning by a man who stormed into the Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire, yelling: “All Jews must die” and other obscenities.
It was believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in the US in recent history and came before next week’s mid-term elections.
Funerals were to be held for Melvin Wax, 88, who was leading Sabbath services when the attack began, retired property agent Irving Younger, 69, and retired university researcher Joyce Fienberg, 75.
Mourners began showing up in grey, cool weather hours before Fienberg’s midmorning funeral at the Beth Shalom Synagogue as police blocked off surrounding streets.
The early crowd was lighter than the one for the Tuesday funeral of brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, widely known and praised as “the helpers” at Tree of Life.
The aftermath of the tragedy pervaded life in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood, home to the Tree of Life.
In coffee shops, customers talked about the victims they knew. In the street, friends embraced and comforted one another during the period of raw grief.
The synagogue attack has heightened a national debate over US President Donald Trump’s speeches, which critics say have contributed to a surge in white-nationalist and neo-Nazi activity. His administration denies he has encouraged far-right extremism and is trying to unify America.
Mr Trump visited the Tree of Life as the first funerals for victims were held on Tuesday. Thousands protested against his presence in the city, accusing him of using speech that has fuelled anti-Semitism in America.
Several thousand protesters, an ethnically mixed crowd of all ages, held an anti-Trump rally about a block away from the synagogue as his visit began, singing Old Testament psalms and carrying signs with such slogans as: “We build bridges not walls.”
Mr Trump made no comments during his visit, but wrote on Twitter yesterday morning that his office had been “shown great respect on a very sad and solemn day” in Pittsburgh.
“Small protest was not seen by us, staged far away,” he tweeted. “The Fake News stories were just the opposite. Disgraceful.”
More than 1,800 people paid their respects on Tuesday at Rodef Shalom, another synagogue in Squirrel Hill, the heart of the city’s Jewish community.
Mr Trump’s visit came seven days before elections that will determine whether his Republican Party maintains control of both houses of Congress or whether the Democrats seize majority in one both.
The gunman in the synagogue attack, Robert Bowers, was charged on Monday with 29 federal felony counts including hate crimes.
Four days after the attack, nerves in Squirrel Hill were still frayed. A public school was placed on lockdown after an unsubstantiated report that a gun had been taken there.
Jodi Smith, a Pittsburgh native, joined mourners before the Wax funeral at the Ralph Schugar Chapel and remembered him as a “very polite, gentle man”.
“I could have claimed him as a father,” Ms Smith said. “He was always at the synagogue, always helping out.
“The synagogue had been his life since his wife passed away a few years ago.”
Fienberg spent 25 years as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Centre until she retired in 2008.
“She was an engaging, elegant, and warm person,” the centre said on Facebook.
Younger, whose funeral will also be at Rodef Shalom, was remembered as a doting grandfather.
Protesters against US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Tree of Life Synagogue on Tuesday