Ce­cil and David Rosen­thal, Broth­ers Bound by Love

Forward Magazine - - FOREGROUND - By Ai­den Pink

Rodef Shalom Con­gre­ga­tion, in Pitts­burgh, is the old­est syn­a­gogue in West­ern Penn­syl­va­nia — but noth­ing in its long his­tory was quite like what hap­pened there on Oc­to­ber 30, when it hosted the funer­als of broth­ers Ce­cil and David Rosen­thal, 59 and 54, re­spec­tively. The broth­ers were two of 11 peo­ple killed while pray­ing at the nearby Tree of Life Con­gre­ga­tion on Oc­to­ber 27.

The two men were beloved fig­ures in the Pitts­burgh Jewish com­mu­nity. And the at­ten­dance num­bers for the fu­neral — the first held for any vic­tims of the Pitts­burgh at­tack — re­flected that. Rodef Shalom, which hosted the fu­neral, since Tree of Life was still an ac­tive crime scene, was packed to the bal­cony, with peo­ple sit­ting on steps and stand­ing in the aisles. Reuters put the crowd, which in­cluded res­i­dents of the home for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties where the broth­ers lived, at about 1,800.

The crowd was di­verse: re­li­gious and sec­u­lar Jews, and peo­ple who weren’t Jewish at all; peo­ple of all races and a woman in a hi­jab; stu­dent del­e­ga­tions from the Uni­ver­sity of Pitts­burgh and Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­sity; some­one wear­ing an Is­raeli flag as a cape; friends and their aides from ACHIEVA, the pro­gram for peo­ple with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties that the Rosen­thals be­longed to, and more than 100 play­ers, coaches and front of­fice staffers of the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, where the Rosen­thal broth­ers’ sis­ter, Michele Rosen­thal, used to work.

Tree of Life’s rabbi, Jef­frey My­ers,

who was in the build­ing dur­ing the shoot­ing, told the Rosen­thals’ par­ents that God “broke the mold” with the broth­ers. He told them to take com­fort in the knowl­edge that “the en­tire world is shar­ing that weight with you.”

The can­tor sang Psalm 23 in He­brew in a high, thin, qua­ver­ing voice. A let­ter of con­do­lence from the bishop of Pitts­burgh was read. Tree of Life’s emer­i­tus rabbi said, “If you were to ask David and Ce­cil where they would want their last mo­ments to be, they would have said Tree of Life.”

Their sis­ter Diane Rosen­thal Hirt said that her broth­ers were al­ways re­ferred to as “the boys,” even into mid­dle age. “Maybe be­cause they weren’t hard­ened like men… [we] thought of them as two gen­tle gi­ants,” she said.

Her hus­band, Michael Hirt, took on the task of shar­ing most of the fam­ily mem­o­ries.

Hirt said that when he spoke on the phone with the younger Rosen­thal brother, David Rosen­thal would al­ways be­gin with the joke “Hey, Michael, the po­lice are look­ing for you.”

He “loved ev­ery­thing re­lated to the po­lice and fire de­part­ments,” Hirt said. “He car­ried a po­lice scan­ner ev­ery­where he went.”

A mur­mur went through the assem­bly. Four po­lice of­fi­cers had been in­jured dur­ing the shoot­ing.

While David Rosen­thal was much shyer, Hirt said, Ce­cil Rosen­thal was “the mayor of Squir­rel Hill,” the heav­ily Jewish neigh­bor­hood where they lived and where Tree of Life is lo­cated. “He knew ev­ery­one in town. He knew ev­ery­one’s busi­ness.”

The broth­ers were a fa­mil­iar sight on the cor­ner of Forbes and Mur­ray av­enues in Squir­rel Hill, which is where the syn­a­gogue is lo­cated and is not far from where they grew up.

“Ce­cil was very friendly and would greet passersby, whether or not he knew them, say­ing hello to all the men and let­ting the women know how beau­ti­ful they looked,” Rosen­thal’s cousin Pam Co­hen, 68, told Reuters.

Ce­cil Rosen­thal was con­sti­tu­tion­ally un­able to keep se­crets, Hirt said. Once, his fam­ily tried to keep a fu­neral se­cret from him. He some­how found out, and hitch­hiked and took the bus to the fu­neral to make sure he could pay his re­spects.

He couldn’t read or write, Hirt said. But one day, dur­ing the fam­ily’s an­nual flea mar­ket shop­ping trip, he bought greet­ing cards. “One day, we got one in the mail,” Hirt said. “It con­tained a jum­ble of ran­dom let­ters, but in the mid­dle was his name.

“We were much more en­riched by them than they were by us. They were kind, thought­ful and in­no­cent… pure souls who car­ried no ill will to­ward any­one.”

My­ers, in his brief con­clud­ing re­marks, noted that the broth­ers were de­voted mem­bers of Tree of Life. Ce­cil Rosen­thal was given the task each week of car­ry­ing the To­rah after it was taken from the ark, a re­spon­si­bil­ity that he took very se­ri­ously. He al­ways ar­rived to Shab­bat ser­vices early to make sure ev­ery­thing was set up prop­erly. “No mat­ter how early I got there, Ce­cil was al­ready there,” My­ers said.

Speak­ing again to the broth­ers’ el­derly par­ents, My­ers said: “You gave us this beau­ti­ful gift of Ce­cil and David. We thank you for shar­ing that gift with us.... Ev­ery time we walk into ser­vices, it won’t be the same, but they will be there in spirit.”

The can­tor sang the El Malei Rachamim prayer, the cas­kets were re­moved from the sanc­tu­ary, and the mourn­ers ex­ited the build­ing to a sea of pho­tog­ra­phers.

‘Maybe be­cause they weren’t hard­ened like men… [we] thought of them as two gen­tle gi­ants.’


A DARK DAY IN PENN­SYL­VA­NIA: Mourn­ers carry a cas­ket out of Rodef Shalom Con­gre­ga­tion after the funer­als for Ce­cil and David Rosen­thal.


MEMO­RIAL BOU­QUET: Flow­ers honor the mem­ory of the Rosen­thals.

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