US & World

Pittsburgh shooting: First of 11 funerals held for victims

Mourners tear up and hold each other while waiting to pay respectsImage copyright Reuters
Image caption The Rosenthal brothers, the first to be buried, were the youngest victims of the synagogue shooting

The first of the funerals for the 11 victims of the US shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh are taking place.

Hundreds lined up outside the Rodef Shalom Congregation for the funerals of brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, the youngest to be killed on Saturday.

The services come just ahead of President Donald Trump’s controversial visit to the city to pay respects.

Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers has said the president is welcome.

The 11 worshippers were shot and killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in what is thought to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history.

Six other people were injured in the shooting.

Brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal, who were aged 54 and 59, are among the first to be buried on Tuesday morning, local time.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Women embrace outside the Rodef Shalom Congregation where the funeral for shooting victims Cecil Rosenthal and David Rosenthal are being held

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, is also to be buried on Tuesday. He was a doctor in the Squirrel Hill community, particularly known for his work with gay men diagnosed with HIV.

On Saturday, he was shot and killed after he rushed to help the wounded, his nephew Avishai Ostrin said in an emotional Facebook post.

“When he heard shots he ran outside to try and see if anyone was hurt and needed a doctor,” he wrote. “That was Uncle Jerry, that’s just what he did.”

As the Pittsburgh Jewish community plans for the victims’ funerals, support has been pouring in from across the country.

A GoFundMe fundraiser created by an Iranian refugee studying in Washington DC, who has no connection to the Pittsburgh community, has already received over $839,000 (£658,000) to help rebuild the synagogue and support victims’ families.

Another fund set up by Muslim-American groups to help pay for funeral costs has raised over $185,000.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said people had donated over $205,000, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

And students at the University of Pittsburgh have also started accepting donations of challah bread – each loaf will be given to the Tree of Life congregation.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A long line has formed outside the Rodef Shalom Congregation ahead of the first funeral service for the victims

The president and First Lady Melania Trump are due to visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday afternoon, local time, to pay their respects.

The timing of Mr Trump’s visit has sparked controversy, with some Jewish figures and Pittsburgh’s Democratic mayor Bill Peduto opposing it on the grounds it would distract attention from the funerals.

The mayor will not be meeting the president during his visit, US media reported.

In addition, more than 70,000 people signed an open letter from Pittsburgh-based Jewish leaders saying that President Donald Trump was “not welcome” in the city unless he “fully denounces white nationalism”.

“President Trump, your words, your policies, and your Party have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” the petition said. “The violence against Jews in Pittsburgh is the direct culmination of your influence.”

The White House has rejected any blame over the attack, with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying it is “outrageous” to suggest a link between the administration and an anti-Semitic attack.

On Monday, Rabbi Myers told CNN: “The president of the United States is always welcome. I’m a citizen. He’s my president. He is certainly welcome.”

The rabbi said he refused to “let politics enter this conversation”.

What about the prayer controversy?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption An aide said Vice-President Mike Pence had not invited Rabbi Jacobs

US Vice-President Mike Pence also faces controversy after a cleric whose views are shunned by mainstream Jews led prayers for victims at a Republican rally on Monday.

Known as Messianic Jews, the movement is shunned by mainstream Judaism.

Social media users were angered by the presence of a figure whose movement is viewed by mainstream Judaism as a branch of evangelical Christianity.

Some said the decision “erases Jewish history and agency” and described it as a “slap in the face”. Others criticised the fact that the rabbi had not named the victims but had instead read a list of Republican candidates for the forthcoming midterm elections.

Republican candidate Lena Epstein, who is herself Jewish, accused critics of “trying to create needless division”.

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