The funeral of David and Cecil Rosenthal (& “Jewish Lives Matter, only if threatened by the right people”)

October 31, 2018

Above, the funeral of David and Cecil Rosenthal, the two mentally handicapped brothers murdered in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue because they were Jewish. Among the mourners were members of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team; Brett Keisel, the towering former defensive lineman, served as a pallbearer.


I attach three further articles. I know I have sent rather a lot this week, but I would urge you to read all three if you have time. The third one is particularly moving.

* “After Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, Benjamin Netanyahu looked directly into a television camera and told those who might have supported the murder, ‘I don’t want your votes!’ Trump must now do the same — and mean it.”

* “Jewish Lives Matter, but to some, only if threatened by the right people.”




Yes, Trump Does Bear Some Responsibility for Pittsburgh
By Benjamin Kerstein
The Algemeiner
October 31, 2018

I was as shocked and horrified as anyone at the news that 11 of my fellow Jews had died in Pittsburgh at the hands of a monster whose face may have changed, but with whom we are tragically and intimately familiar. But I was not surprised.

As early as the 2016 election, I had from time to time gone trawling in the fever swamps of the internet, to the various alt-right and neo-Nazi websites that inspired the Pittsburgh murderer, may his name be erased. Over time, something became increasingly clear: that there was a precipitous rise in right-wing antisemitism underway in the United States, and yes, it was deeply connected to the campaign of future President Donald Trump.

No, Trump is not himself an antisemite. He certainly did not pull the trigger at the Tree of Life synagogue. He is not responsible in any direct sense. Yes, the killer apparently despised Trump for having Jewish children and grandchildren, as well as Jewish advisers. Yes, Trump has in many ways been very good for Israel. Yes, there are plenty of antisemites on the left, and even more in the Muslim world. Yes, Louis Farrakhan, Linda Sarsour, Jeremy Corbyn, and many others are racists and would be shunned in a more functional society.

Yet it is nonetheless clear that the demented subculture that fed the murderer’s hatred and slowly incited him to violence for the most part worships Trump. And Trump has not done nearly enough to address the problem.

Almost from the instant that he declared his candidacy, Trump attracted a cult-like following on the alt-right, and especially among its online denizens. In his announcement speech, Trump’s denunciation of illegal immigration, including calling many of them “rapists,” started a firestorm. His pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border, ban citizens of Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, and numerous other well-known provocations quickly convinced the alt-right of one thing: they had found their man.

For the first time in generations, the alt-right and white nationalists felt the wind at their backs. They came out of the closet, saying and doing things that social stigma would previously have made unthinkable. The fervor became so intense that a meme developed referring to Trump as “God-Emperor.” The storm intensified after Trump’s election, when one white supremacist leader told a crowd, “hail Trump, hail victory!” a literal translation of the Nazi sieg heil. Most notoriously, hundreds of alt-righters marched in a Nazi-like torchlight procession in Charlottesville, and one deliberately ran down a counter-protester.

In the face of this, one regrets to say, Trump did little, and what little he did only exacerbated the situation. He doubled down consistently on his race-baiting rhetoric, told far-right celebrity Alex Jones “I will not let you down,” and seemed disturbingly unfazed by Charlottesville, saying that there were “good people” on both sides. To this day, he has not publicly and unequivocally denounced the alt-right, allowing them to continue their slavish devotion to him and enjoy the at-least tacit legitimacy that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

More generally, Trump’s assault on basic American political, cultural, social, and rhetorical norms has inadvertently aided the alt-right cause. Last year, I interviewed former ADL leader Abe Foxman, who told me that the real problem with Trump was that he had destroyed civility, and civility in and of itself is a shield for minorities, closing the Overton Window to the darker impulses of the majority. There is no question that things that previously could not be said in polite company are now being screamed, and very few of them are good. Into this sudden vacuum rushed the alt-right.

This is both disturbing and very, very bad for the Jews. Because whatever else the alt-right may be, it is viciously, murderously antisemitic. From neo-Nazi chat rooms to pickup artist websites to anti-feminist manifestos to white supremacist rock songs, the alt-right universally embraces everything from the most debased and vulgar conspiracy theories about Jews and Jewish power, to sophisticated pseudo-intellectual arguments such as that formulated by antisemitic academic Kevin MacDonald’s Culture of Critique, which charges the Jews with imposing liberal values that destroy white societies as a “survival strategy.”

Throughout, the Jews are damned as, among other things, ugly, sexually perverted, avaricious, conspiratorial, and a direct threat to Western society and the white race. There is no doubt whatsoever that it is these ideas that led directly to the Tree of Life massacre. The alt-right’s claim, for example, that the Jews are deliberately flooding white nations with non-white immigrants in order to destroy Western societies and commit a “white genocide” was specifically cited by the Pittsburgh killer as his primary motive. It was alt-right ideology that incited him to murder.

In Trump’s failure, deliberate or otherwise, to stand up to the challenge of this ideology, the president does bear some measure of responsibility for what happened at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Out of expediency, indifference, or simple contrarianism, he has not done enough to stop a hideous disease from festering and spreading, to the point that it has now taken 11 Jewish lives. This is, at best, conduct entirely unbecoming of a president and dangerous to Jewish life in the United States. The president must stand up and absolutely, unambiguously, and explicitly reject and condemn the alt-right by name in the strongest possible terms. A failure to do so would be a betrayal of the American Jewish community and the Pittsburgh martyrs, some of whom were his supporters.

After Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, Benjamin Netanyahu looked directly into a television camera and told those who might have supported the murder, “I don’t want your votes!” Trump must now do the same — and mean it.



The selective rage of the Left
Neo-Nazi assaults get the righteous backlash they deserve; not so for attacks spurred by hatred of Israel
The Times of Israel
Aug. 21, 2017

One of my best friends from university — now an ex-friend — is from Charlottesville. When I read about the neo-Nazi rally there I had a look at her timeline and saw that she was attending the counterprotest. I also noticed that she is friends with one of our former professors, who has written extensively in support of suicide bombers who attack Israel. Here are a few phrases from one of his recent articles:

‘Israel’s penchant for serial atrocities’
‘Israeli abominations’
‘the rogue State’
‘the politically powerful Israel lobby’
‘the self-promotional and political-marketing zeal of Elie Wiesel, the world’s leading holocaust entrepreneur’
‘Israeli propaganda’
‘The holocaust is made into political plastic carrying an unlimited line of exculpatory credit.’
‘Israel-serving dogma’
‘the holocaust permits open season on Palestinians’

This is what my American ‘friends’ are reading and sharing.

Another former friend is now following the far-right anti-Semite David Icke. This friend once added me to an online ‘multifaith’ group in which members commented on anti-Semitic murders by Islamist extremists, but only so that they could indulge in emotional outpourings of sympathy and concern over a potential backlash against Muslims. There was never a word of dismay for the actual dead Jews; just fears that, as a consequence of an Islamist extremist having brutally murdered some Jews, someone somewhere might say something rude to a woman in a hijab. They were all talking about the virtues of sitting next to hijabis on buses and protecting them in public places, but no one once suggested trying to protect visibly Jewish Jews.

Another friend — who has never once shared my posts about the rise of left-wing anti-Semitism — wrote of her abhorrence for the neo-Nazis. Her friends all pitched in and agreed that anti-Semitism is disgraceful and abhorrent, so I pointed out that there are regular marches in London in which extremists call for the annihilation of the Jews. There are counter protests, but we are a tiny band of mostly elderly Jews, and we receive no support from any Leftist organisations. A friend of this friend said that he was appalled, and would join me in the counter protest. I thanked him and shared information about the annual Hezbollah march, in which hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Hezbollah supporters wave terrorist flags and call for the end of Israel and the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Jews. He fell silent.

Jewish Lives Matter, but only if we are threatened by the right people.

There is a rising tide of very vocal leftists who are incensed by the rise of anti-Semitism, but only if it is of the goose-stepping, swastika-wielding variety. None of these people spoke of their rage following the shootings of Jews at the Hyper Cacher, or Copenhagen, or Toulouse, or the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Then, it was all tea lights and ‘love trumps hate.’ And yet, it’s not like these people are incapable of feeling rage and hatred. Their vitriol is evident at Israel Apartheid Week events on campuses, where anti-Semites scream ‘intifada, intifada’ and declare that murdering civilians is justifiable, so long as they’re Jewish. These virtuous people are also ready to declare that they hate bankers, Tories, people who voted for Brexit or Trump, and anyone else who doesn’t agree with their views. Their ‘refusal to hate’ seems only to apply to certain groups. Jews are calling this ‘selective outrage.’

There is a strange phenomenon in Europe, in which every time we have an Islamist terror attack, people respond with candles and flowers and the assertion that they ‘refuse to hate.’ It happens after every suicide bombing, and every time Jihadists drive a vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians. It seems to me a death wish; a passive assertion that terrorism is ‘sad’, rather than an abomination. Can we not agree that terrorists who wish to kill us are worthy of strong, un-hippylike feelings like rage and anger?

Leftist ‘sadness’ is particularly evident each time another Imam stands up in a mosque and states that Muslims have a duty to kill every last Jew in the world. I have a friend in California, and when this happened recently at the mosque in her town, she expected the local Muslim community to condemn the attack. She expected locals to rally, and she expected her friends to express shock and dismay. Instead, a number of people responded by declaring their pacifism. They ‘refused to hate.’

When an Imam calls for the murder of Jews, I don’t want to hear excuses. When Jews are murdered, I don’t want to hear that gentiles are feeling a touch of melancholy but ‘refuse to hate.’ I’m sure this makes them feel warm and virtuous, but most Jews do not feel happy or grateful when gentiles respond to threats to kill us with assurances that they don’t feel any rancour towards our would-be assassins. Their supine indifference does not strike us as a ‘refusal to hate.’ It strikes us as a refusal to come to our aid.

(Rivka Bond is a retired Archaeology Professor living in the UK.)



The Funeral of David and Cecil Rosenthal
The brothers, victims of the horrific attack in Pittsburgh, weren’t just the greeters at Tree of Life, they were ‘the righteous people of this generation—and now everybody knows’
By Armin Rosen
October 30, 2018

David and Cecil Rosenthal were murdered by a gunman at Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday morning. The two brothers had lived together in Pittsburgh all their lives, and their deaths left the large crowd of mourners at their funeral at Rodef Shalom this afternoon with an overwhelming sense of loss. “Friendship,” one mourner told me, when I asked him what he had lost. “Innocence,” said another.

Every seat at the brothers’ funeral, which lasted only a little over half an hour, was full. The sanctuary was full, as was the area behind the seats and on the sides, along with much of the central aisle space. So was the entire balcony. The speakers at the funeral faced a semicircular window of stained glass with a rainbow sunburst and the words SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT arching over the top. But there was no reflection from any of the speakers on any potential meaning of the event. No one contrasted the brothers with their murderer, and no one tried to reason through the hatred that had killed them. The eulogies were about the brothers only, two mentally handicapped men who had lived their entire lives together.

David was the more taciturn of the two brothers, I gathered during the hour before the service began. One mourner said he’d only heard him speak a couple of times before. Cecil was a large and strong man. You had to brace yourself when he shook your hand; sometimes he would put his hands together and bow. Over the course of his life, Cecil and his brother shook hands with seemingly every Jew in Pittsburgh. They weren’t just the greeters at Tree of Life, one mourner said, “they were everyone’s greeter.” They were “all good, without an ounce of bad,” “the righteous people of this generation—and now everybody knows.”

Prior to the service, mourners lined up to greet the brothers’ two surviving siblings, Diane and Michelle Rosenthal, as well as their elderly parents, who stood in a covered courtyard below the main sanctuary. Michelle Rosenthal is the former public relations head for the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, whose presence at the memorial wasn’t limited to their current roster: Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin were in attendance, but so was Franco Harris, one of the most beloved athletes in Pittsburgh history. Most of the gathered mourners had no idea of the athletes’ presence—though it was hard to miss Brett Keisel, the towering former defensive lineman who served as a pallbearer.

Mayor Bill Peduto sat in the middle of the sanctuary, among the large crowd. No politicians spoke. The only people who addressed the funeral for any significant length of time were Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi at Tree of Life and the leader of the Shabbat services where the brothers died, and Diane Rosenthal, who appeared on the bima with her husband, her sister, and her brother-in-law.

The service began with a line of firefighters in dress uniforms who filed past and saluted the two caskets, which were placed so close together that they almost touched. “We are gathered here today … to bid farewell to two of the sweetest human beings you could ever meet,” Rabbi Myers began.

In his eulogy, which concluded the service, Myers described the brothers’ devotion to the synagogue where they had died. “No matter how early I would get there, Cecil was always there,” Myers recalled. David, who often held jobs as a cleaner and was remembered for his fastidiousness, would always make sure that prayer books and tallises were in order as congregants arrived. Cecil was the shul’s official Torah carrier. “They’re probably calling to God, I want to be in the Tree, that’s where I belong,’” Myers said. “Their spirits will stay in the room.”

Rabbi Myers recalled how proud he was at the congregation’s acceptance of the two brothers, who were able to travel to Shabbat services on their own. Cecil had a skill for remembering people’s individual details; David was fascinated with law enforcement and carried around a police scanner, the object he prized most of all.

David and Cecil Rosenthal succeeded in living semi-independent lives with the help of an organization called Achieva, which provides lifelong support for adults with disabilities in southwestern Pennsylvania. But they could live as they did because their community accepted, supported, and valued them as human beings. “It was easy to feel sad over what could have been, had the boys been quote-unquote ‘normal,’” Michael Hirt, Diane’s husband, said later in the service. “But when I think about it more, I realize that we were more enriched by them than they were by us.”

Diane Rosenthal gave the longest eulogy—although after a few minutes, she handed the speech off to her husband. From the pair we learned that David would always begin phone conversations with “‘Hey Michael, the police are looking for you!’ To which I would playful reply, ‘no, David, they’re looking for you!’” For his entire life David would help his mother cook, and would often load the dishwasher. Every year, the Rosenthals would go to the flea market during their extended family visits to Pittsburgh and David would pick out the same two items: a pair of highway patrolman sunglasses and a bottle of cologne.

Cecil “knew everyone in town,” Hirt said, to a room that could not possibly have been any fuller. He was the “town crier” who knew what was happening in seemingly everyone’s life. He “knew if your mother was sick, or if your grandmother had died. … He always affectionately inquired about the well-being of those who were not well.” He liked parties, and jokingly called himself the “party planner” at every event he attended. “I can guarantee he’s looking down on us now asking, are you proud of me?”

At those annual flea market trips, Hirt recalled, Cecil would disappear into a shop to buy greeting cards. This was odd, because he couldn’t read or write anything other than his name. The mystery was solved one day when Diane and her husband received a letter in the mail from him, with the address made out by someone at their care facility. “The card contained nothing but a jumble of letters,” he said. “But somewhere in the letter was his name, clearly spelled out by him.”


* You can also find other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page on Facebook

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.