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In Pittsburgh, two 'gentle souls' — victims of the synagogue shooting — are laid to rest

David Rosenthal loved the police. When his scanner broke, he begged his family to fix it. When they went to the flea market, he always bought the same thing: mirrored sunglasses. When he called his brother-in-law, he had a familiar greeting.

“Hey, Michael,” Rosenthal would say. “The police are looking for you.”

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Michael Hirt let the laughs from about 1,400 people roll through the packed the Rodef Shalom Synagogue on Tuesday. It was a vintage David Rosenthal moment.

It would’ve been difficult enough if Hirt were just eulogizing Rosenthal, 54. But this was a funeral for two and Hirt still had to talk about Cecil Rosenthal, 59. The two brothers were among 11 people killed over the weekend in the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history.

The Rosenthals, both of whom were intellectually disabled, were described as having “gentle souls” and distinct personalities. David was orderly and neat and prone to banter. Cecil was described as a “consummate politician” who knew everyone’s business but also cared deeply about the welfare of those in his Squirrel Hill neighborhood, the historical hub of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.

Elsewhere in the city on Tuesday, funerals were held for a leader of the synagogue and a beloved family doctor, while outside the Tree of Life Synagogue, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visited a makeshift memorial as hundreds in the city took to the streets to protest his visit, holding signs and chanting, “This Land is Your Land.”

At the 45-minute Rosenthal service, Hirt weaved funny stories about his brothers-in-law. But he struggled to get through one story in particular.

He said he had always wondered why Cecil Rosenthal liked to go to the store and buy greeting cards. After all, he couldn’t read or write — though he had mastered writing his name.

But one day, Hirt got a letter. He said it had been addressed by Rosenthal’s supervisor. When he opened it up, he was moved.

Hirt paused at the bimah, trying not to break down.

“The card contained nothing but a jumble of random letters,” Hirt said, his voice wavering. “But somewhere in the middle of the jumble was his name.”

Diane Hirt, sister to Cecil and David Rosenthal, said they were “gentle giants.” She cried when she spoke. “No one ever expects to write a eulogy for a sibling, let alone two siblings at the same time — especially under such tragic and horrific circumstances,” she said.

Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was in the synagogue when the massacre began, had said on Sunday that he wasn’t sure how he would get through the funerals. He would be doing a few more this week. But the death of the brothers hit him especially hard.

Myers said he saw the pair at Tree of Life all the time. The synagogue, still cordoned off by police tape, was like their home and the two were usually ready to pray even before the rabbi showed up.

“No matter how early I’d get there, Cecil was always there,” Myers said. “David was setting everything in order. The books had to be just right.”

Myers said it would feel empty without the Rosenthals around.

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Before the funeral began, several hundred people waited outside the synagogue to meet and greet family members. Some stood patiently for as long as 90 minutes as the line snaked through streets with trees whose leaves were still turning rust and falling to the sidewalks.

Both of “the boys” — as the brothers were known — were Pittsburgh Steelers fans, and members of the team arrived to pay their respects. Before the service, several uniformed first responders approached the caskets and saluted the brothers.

Rodef Shalom Rabbi Aaron Bisno said it was the biggest crowd he’d ever seen in his temple. “An incredible outpouring,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, a funeral took place at Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community Center for Jerry Rabinowitz, a 66-year-old doctor remembered for being a compassionate caregiver. A private service was held for temple leader Daniel Stein, 71.

At Rodef Shalom, there was talk about the pending visit of Trump, who had upset some people by arriving on the same day as the city and state were still trying to assist the families of the shooting victims.

Trump arrived in the late afternoon with the first lady and they placed a white flower and small stone on each star erected in memory of the 11 dead at the makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life. Both also made visits to hospitals to see the four police officers wounded in the rampage.

Suspect Robert Bowers, who was wounded before being arrested, had posted anti-Semitic screeds on social media before the attack. He is due in court for a preliminary hearing Thursday.

Protesters lined the president’s route at times as it went through Pittsburgh, with some of them shouting and holding signs. “We didn't invite you here,” one man holding a baby was heard shouting. Signs said “Words Matter” and “Your Hate Speech Has Consequences.”

Rabbi Myers, who said the president would be welcomed and who accompanied him during a portion of the visit, according to local pool reports, emphasized that the way the brothers lived their lives was a repudiation of hate. The two, he said, “didn’t have an ounce of hate in them.”

Michal Gray-Schaffer, who knew the Rosenthals from when she was a cantor at Tree of Life, said the tragedy had caused her to think about how she lived her life moment to moment.

She said she still regretted how she once saw David Rosenthal walking and offered him a ride. Gray-Schaffer said he got in and proceeded to ask her for 75 cents for a soda. She only had $1 on her, so she didn't give it to him, she recalled.

Sitting in the temple, her eyes began to fill with tears. “I wish I had given him the 75 cents,” she said. “There are no small moments in life.”

Brother-in-law Hirt said everyone learned and was better from knowing the Rosenthal brothers.

“We were much more enriched by them than they were by us,” Hirt said. “They were kind, thoughtful. They were pure souls who bore no ill will toward anyone.”

Myers, addressing the Rosenthal family, looked directly at them when he spoke from the bimah.

“Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. I say to you, you gave us this beautiful gift in Cecil and David. We thank you for sharing that gift with us. The gift was taken back way too soon. But look at how much richer our lives are because you gave us Cecil and David.”

The funeral procession was escorted by local and state police and Myers presided over the burial at Tree of Life Memorial Park.

He said that under Jewish custom, each person would shovel a pile of dirt — with the shovel turned upside down. It is a way to signify a difficult task, he said. Also, because the brothers couldn’t be buried in Israel, he added, a handful of dirt from Israel would be thrown in by their parents, Elie and Joy Rosenthal.

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Joy Rosenthal, 80, needed a walker and it was a minor miracle it could hold the weight of her grief.

She took the handful of dirt and stared into the ground. She sobbed and staggered just a little bit before tossing it onto the casket.

Then she did the unthinkable.

She walked a few steps to the casket containing her other son. Took a scoop of dirt and did it again. She wept.

Two sons killed in an instant and now mourned forever.

Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.

7:15 p.m.: The story was updated with staff reporting.

3:35 p.m.: The story was updated with details of President Trump’s arrival.

The story was originally published at 12:52 p.m.

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