On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle was granted a spot as part of the local press pool covering President Donald Trump’s visit here to express condolences in the wake of the Oct. 27 murder of 11 congregants at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, New Light Congregation and Congregation Dor Hadash in Squirrel Hill. The experience offered a window into the immensely public but at times quintessentially private moments the president of the United States has after a major tragedy such as this one, all the more so when Trump’s itinerary included stops at the makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life building and the hospital to visit the few who were wounded in the attack.
Upon Air Force One’s afternoon arrival at the home of the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard next to Pittsburgh International Airport and the president’s exiting the plane, no questions were taken. The president did not make a statement. He was joined by First Lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The presidential motorcade quickly made its way to Tree of Life at the intersection of Wilkins and Shady avenues. Along the way, some spectators had gathered to view the procession, and although some onlookers held signs either expressing their approval or displeasure at the president’s visit, most merely held up their cell phones to take pictures and video of the passing vehicles.
There were no protests in sight, and not until Trump’s appearance in Squirrel Hill did any type of abnormal activity increase. (Two protests elsewhere in the neighborhood drew hundreds of people upset about what they say is Trump’s hateful rhetoric and its making a nightmare such as the Tree of Life massacre possible.) Outside of the synagogue building, now a national landmark of sorts, Trump was greeted by Tree of Life Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers. Rabbis Jonathan Perlman of New Light and Cheryl Klein of Dor Hadash, who had joined Myers at the communitywide vigil and service Sunday night at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, did not take part in the public part of Trump’s visit.
Myers took the president and his family into the building, where they remained for 18 minutes. The group then made their way a few yards to the makeshift memorial outside, containing 11 markers topped by Stars of David. Myers stopped before each one, shared some words with the Trumps and waited as the president placed a stone on the marker. The first lady placed flowers. Ivanka Trump placed a bouquet nearby. No one made public remarks.
Shouts of “words have meaning” and “make America peaceful again” were offered by unseen people from a distance.
The motorcade then traveled to Oakland. As it approached the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, larger crowds had assembled, but most people seemed to have come just to watch. The press vans parked on Cardiac Hill outside UPMC Presbyterian and waited more than an hour as the president made his rounds inside.
Having done what he came to do, the president rejoined the motorcade and headed back to the airport. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.