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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

November 2, 2018  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

‘I wish I could have met them. I wish I could have prayed with them. I wish I could have helped them.’

Editor’s Note: Mark Wright, a Tampa attorney, traveled to Pittsburgh to attend the funeral of two of the 11 slain at Tree of Life synagogue. His account of the day follows:

Cecil and David Rosenthal were inseparable. They were “kind with a gentle spirit.” They were devoted members of the Tree of Life Synagogue. Like always, they were there this past Shabbat. Both came together and arrived early. A few minutes after services started, a gunman walked into the sanctuary carrying multiple weapons and murdered them along with nine other innocent men and women.

I was sitting at my desk on Monday. My mind was miles away from work. I was thinking about what happened, wondering how in 2018, can Jews be killed again just for being Jewish. I stared at their picture on my computer for a long time. I was sickened by what had happened. I could not just sit here and do nothing. I immediately cleared my calendar and booked my flight to Pittsburgh for early Tuesday morning so I could attend Cecil and David’s funeral.


Caskets are carried out of Rodef Shalom Temple following the funeral of brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal on Oct. 30. Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images Caskets are carried out of Rodef Shalom Temple following the funeral of brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal on Oct. 30. Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images I got up Tuesday morning around 5 a.m. I put on my suit and headed to the airport. I also put a black and gold ribbon on my lapel to show my support for all of the people of Pittsburgh. Before the flight, I got in line at Starbucks. The man in front of me saw my ribbon and the kippah on my head. He asked where I was going and I told him. He insisted on buying me my coffee and told me that he was Christian and how upset he and wife were over what had happened. He was a beautiful person.

The whole flight I kept saying over and over what the hell is wrong with this world? How could anyone be so mad that they want to kill men and women because of the way they choose to believe in and honor G-d!

No pleasure trip

It was a cold sunny day in Pittsburgh. The guy in the rental car kiosk, Matt, asked me, “Are you in town for business or pleasure?” I responded neither – he said, “You are here for the funerals.” I said yes. He told me that all of Pittsburgh is mourning and that everyone feels the loss.

I drove directly to the reform synagogue, Rodef Shalom, where the funeral was being held. There was a line wrapped around the corner. People were waiting to show their respect to the Rosenthal family. I decided to bypass the line so I could get a seat. I sat a few seats down from a lovely lady – she looked like she was in her 80s and was wearing a purple top and hat. I introduced myself to her and handed her a ribbon. Her name was Mary. She told me that she shouldn’t be there – that she should be dead. You can imagine how my heart sunk. She told me that she was a Tree of Life congregant and was on the way to shul for Shabbat, but that she was about 10 minutes late because of construction. She told me that she normally sat with several of the people who were shot and killed and that she should have been one of them. Then she showed me a piece of paper with the names and times of the funerals for her friends.

Every seat was filled and there were hundreds of people standing. First the rabbi spoke and then we heard a beautiful rendition of Psalm 23.

Then we heard from the “boys” sister and brother-in-law. They told sweet and loving stories about David and Cecil. How one was the “mayor of Squirrel Hill,” the other head usher at the Tree of Life. How they both loved the Steelers. They were innocent and gentle souls. For me, this is when it became real. I had never met the brothers, but I was overcome with emotion – the tears poured out of my eyes and soul.

As the service ended and the coffin of one of the brothers passed feet away from me, I couldn’t help but thinking to myself was this really happening? What motivated this anti-Semitic hate-filled bastard to get dressed, get his guns, get into his car, drive to a synagogue, walk in and randomly start shooting people – mostly elderly men and women who he had never met – just because they were Jewish. Knowing that he was going to die or spend the rest of his life in jail – what was it that encouraged him to do what he did?

At Tree of Life

I left the funeral and started walking to my car. I had totally forgotten where I parked. I met several people along the way looking for some help. Most of them introduced themselves to me and asked me what I was doing there. I think they were touched when I told them that I had flown up that day to show my love and respect to those that had been killed and to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. I even got a hug from a man and wife who made sure I found my car before they left me.

I drove up Wilkins Avenue toward the Tree of Life synagogue. The street leading up to the synagogue was closed off with yellow tape. I parked, got out of my car and walked up to the policeman guarding the street. I asked him where to go to get to the memorial for the victims. I asked him if he knew the officers that were injured. He told me that he did. I told him to please let them know that people all around the country were praying for them and wishing them a speedy recovery. He thanked me and went back to directing traffic.

I saw several Israeli men standing on the other side of the yellow tape. I tried talking to them in Hebrew. They of course responded in English. They explained that they were members of the Pittsburgh Chevra Kadisha, a group that sees that bodies of Jews are prepared for burial according to Jewish tradition. They told me that they had been inside the sanctuary. I assume they had been cleaning the remnants of blood and human flesh off of the benches, prayer books, and floor of the sanctuary where their brothers and sisters had been slaughtered. I shook each of their hands not knowing what to say. I looked at their hands while we greeted each other thinking that somehow I was reaching out and touching David and Cecil Rosenthal, Irving Younger, Rose Mallinger, Melvin Wax, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Joyce Fienberg, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, Dr. Richard Gottfried and Daniel Stein. That somehow through them, I was sending my love to these mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandmothers and grandfathers.

Words matter

I just stood there for a while. Then one of the men came over and asked me if I wanted to daven with them the afternoon prayers. They found the service for me on my iPhone so I could join them. Feeling a part of them, I felt a special connection. A sense of belonging. I thanked them, walked back on the other side of the yellow tape and started walking toward the Tree of Life synagogue.

On my way, I saw sign after sign in the yards surrounding the synagogue. “Words have consequences.” “Words have meaning.” “Make America Decent Again.” “Words Matter!”

I got to the makeshift memorial on the side of the Tree of Life. It was pretty crowded. There were people of all ages and all faiths. There were people of all color. They were there, like me, to express their sorrow for the victims and their faith in humankind. I was touched. I was distraught. I was mad at the senseless loss of life!

I stood there. I couldn’t move. I closed my eyes and listened to the singing of the Yeshiva boys and girls that had come from New York to be together at this awful time. I looked at the faces of the 11 victims on my phone. I wish I could have met them. I wish I could have prayed with them. I wish I could have helped them.

Before I left, I placed a black and gold ribbon on each of the Jewish stars with the names of the victims. I promised each of them that I would never forget them and how I felt at that moment, at that place and time as a Jew and as a loving and caring human.

I didn’t want to leave. Finally, I left because I wanted to miss the President and all of the protestors. I had also promised my wife that I would make my flight home.

Throughout my brief visit to Pittsburgh, I was moved by the kindness of all of the men and women that I met and talked to about what had happened. That would openly share their own grief and sorrow.

Before I left, I stopped off at a famous pizza joint called Mineo’s off of lower Murray Avenue. I met my old Camp Blue Star friend, Evan Indianer. While we were sitting there at the bar, we met “cousin” Gino – who after learning that I flown up for the day insisted on buying us a shot so we could drink to Pittsburgh, to the injured police officers and to the men and women whose lives had been stolen from all of us. He said “Salute” and we said “L’chaim!” We hugged it out and I left.

I left with the strength to believe that we are much better than we have been. That there is hope that we can survive whatever this terrible place we are in and that we, as Americans, as Jews, Christians, Muslims, ... can come together and make America stronger, safer, more civil and respectful. That we can defeat hate and injustice.


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