World / Crime & Legal

Pittsburgh honors slain synagogue brothers in life and death


Much loved brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, inseparable in life as in death, were treasured members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, remembered as the sweetest souls and devoted to the synagogue where they were killed.

The city on Tuesday bid farewell to the pair, who had developmental disabilites and reportedly lived together, in the first funerals for those killed in the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

Aged 59 and 54 respectively, Cecil and David, were the youngest of the 11 worshippers killed. “That really crushes me, they were such sweet men,” remembered teacher Arlene Wolk who knew them both from synagogue.

“I still can’t believe that someone could be that hateful to walk into a house of worship and just kill people.”

The brothers lived in Squirrel Hill, the heart of the Jewish community in the former steel-making town, where they were constant fixtures, meeting and greeting neighbors, and never missed a service at Tree of Life synagogue, where they were brutally killed at Shabbat services.

On Tuesday, their funeral was being held at the Rodef Shalom temple, just a six-minute drive from where they were killed, on a crisp fall day with bright blue skies and leaves turning a deep yellow and russet.

Jeff Izenson, one of the mourners attending the private visitation and service, knew the family and worked with the mother.

“They were the nicest kids and they wouldn’t hurt a flea,” he told AFP while walking to the service with his wife. “Words don’t capture how horrendous and cowardly this whole thing was.

“They were a big part of the Jewish community.”

Detective Donald Pasquarelli remembers the brothers as sweet, genuine and very chatty, always looking out for each other and devoted attendees of Tree of Life, where he used to provide security.

“There wasn’t an ill thought in their body,” he told AFP outside the temple. “When we worked events there, they were there always. They were the Tree of Life.”

They loved talking to police and were “pretty much always upbeat,” he said. “Maybe one brother would say, ‘Hey keep an eye on the other brother.’ They’d want to know if we’d be back the next day.”

Earlier in his career, he remembers one of the brothers stopping by the police station every day just to chat.

“The sergeants, the desk people loved him,” he said. “To me they didn’t have any disabilities at all, they were just great guys.”

It was when photographs of the dead were released alongside the names that Pasquarelli was most choked up. “It affected me, it affected my other partners. This is professional and personal,” he said.

Deborah Brower, who worked for years at ACHIEVA, an organization that provided residential and vocational support to the brothers, mourned a pair she said “could not have been sweeter souls.”

Cecil would regularly stop by the office to deliver mail and visit. “Let’s just say he had quite a gift for schmoozing, kindness and humor — the likes of which bring to mind a good politician. Cecil didn’t just bring mail, he brought light,” she said in a statement.

Once trying to get to work on public transport and struggling, she was overjoyed to bump into Cecil who lent a helping hand.

“He smoothly took charge and helped me safely navigate the streets and multiple buses,” she wrote. “I was in the hands of an angel.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life, who will preside over the brothers’ funeral, said the service would celebrate the lives of “two wonderful human beings.”

“They were the sweetest, most wonderful people you could know — not an ounce of hate in them whatsoever,” Myers told CNN late Monday.

There could be no answers, he said, for their senseless death nor the senseless murders of the nine other Jewish congregants gathered for prayers, shot dead at point blank range last Saturday.

“We need to just turn to what was good about them,” Myers said, “and gratitude they were in our lives.”

ACHIEVA said the two brothers “loved life” and “loved their community,” remembering Cecil for his infectious laugh, and David for his kindness and gentle spirit.

The brothers never missed a Saturday service. It was that devotion that cost them their lives.