PITTSBURGH — As the first funerals for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack began on Tuesday morning, President Trump prepared to visit the grief-stricken city to pay respects. Even before he landed though, some local officials implored him to stay away while the community began burying its dead.
In the aftermath of one of the deadliest anti-Semitic attacks in American history, the president will make a brief trip Tuesday afternoon with the first lady, Melania Trump, as well as his daughter Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish, and her husband, Jared Kushner, the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
The top four Republican and Democratic congressional leaders who were invited to join him all declined, according to officials familiar with the planning who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment.
Mr. Trump’s stop is an opportunity for him to play the traditional role of consoler in chief that presidents often step into after a national tragedy. But in the wake of the shooting and a recent spate of mailed explosive devices, Mr. Trump has been reluctant to blunt his bitter political attacks, arguing that his supporters crave his incendiary rhetoric.
The president’s planned visit drew criticism — and prompted disagreement within Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. Protests were planned for Tuesday afternoon.
Two Jewish groups had called on Mr. Trump to back down from inflammatory rhetoric that they said seemed to be encouraging the most radical fringes of American society. In addition, some members of the congregations that were attacked have said they did not want Mr. Trump to come. Others, including Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life synagogue, said they would be glad for a visit from Mr. Trump.
“The president of the United States is always welcome,” Rabbi Myers said on CNN on Monday. “I am a citizen. He’s my president. He is certainly welcome.”
One protest was scheduled to take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the corner of Beechwood Boulevard and Forbes Avenue, and had about 1,000 people saying they would attend, according to a Facebook page for the event. Another protest was planned for 3 p.m. at the corner of Darlington Road and Murray Avenue.
The mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, in comments to reporters before the announcement of the visit, said the White House should first ask victims’ families if they wanted a presidential visit.
“Our attention and our focus is going to be on them,” the mayor said of the funeral services. He added, “We do not have enough public safety officials to provide enough protection at the funerals and to be able at the same time draw attention to a potential presidential visit.
“If the president is looking to come to Pittsburgh, I would ask that he not do so while we are burying the dead.”
The first funerals for those killed began Tuesday morning with a service for the Rosenthal brothers, David and Cecil. The funeral, which began around 11 a.m. was standing room only. Some city officials were attending.
An hour and a half before visitation, the lines started to form at Rodef Shalom Temple, a stately domed 111-year old building that is the home of one of the oldest Jewish congregations in western Pennsylvania.
Among those who came to pay their respects were about 100 members of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, including the owner, the head coach, many players and the team’s general manager, said the Steelers spokesman, Burt Lauten.
The sister of the Rosenthal brothers, Michelle Rosenthal, used to work for the Steelers as the manager of community relations, and was well liked among the members of the team.
Two simple wooden caskets lay at the front of the large sanctuary for the two brothers, who regularly greeted worshipers as they came into Shabbat services at Tree of Life. The crowd included Jewish people from different denominations, the observant and the lapsed, native Pittsburghers and out-of-towners, men who had had their bar mitzvahs at Tree of Life Synagogue and others who were not Jewish at all.
A shiva for the brothers was scheduled at Rodef Shalom later in the afternoon.