The pews and aisles of Rodef Shalom Congregation’s 1,200-seat sanctuary were overflowing with mourners who had come to pay their final respects to brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, murdered on Oct. 27 along with nine others in an anti-Semitic attack at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha.
The Rosenthals’ funeral, which began at noon on Oct. 30 inside the heavily guarded building on Fifth Avenue, was the second to occur following the attack. The first, for Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, took place earlier that day at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill.
Cecil and David, who were 59 and 54, respectively, were affectionately known to their family as “the boys” because of their childlike natures, said sister Diane Hirt at the service. “We thought of them as the two gentle giants.”
The brothers, both of whom had developmental disabilities, “were extraordinary people,” said Rabbi Alvin Berkun, rabbi emeritus at TOL*OLS. “They found a home with us, and we found a home with them.”
“They were two of the sweetest human beings you could ever meet,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, spiritual leader of TOL*OLS. “God broke the mold after Cecil and David.”
Michael Hirt, Cecil and David’s brother-in-law, painted a detailed portrait of each of them in a eulogy laced with joy and humor, as well as sorrow.
Hirt described David as loving playful banter, anything having to do with police or fire fighters, and women.
“David loved women,” Hirt said. “I’m sure there are ladies here today who were at one time or another asked by David, ‘Are you married?’ Followed by, ‘Wanna go to Hawaii?’”
David was a hard worker and someone who liked to keep things neat and in order. He didn’t drink, “except for Shirley Temples with extra cherries, and he usually liked to be in bed by 8 p.m.”
“Had David not been handicapped he would have been a movie star or a celebrity that maintained a fine balance between public and private life,” Hirt said.
He described Cecil as “very different from David.”
“Cecil was the consummate politician, the planner, the organizer, the socialite,” said Hirt. “Cecil knew everyone in town. He knew everyone’s business. He knew if your brother was sick, or if your grandfather had died. How many times has Cecil stopped one of you on the street to tell you about someone’s impending marriage or impending divorce?”
Because Cecil liked to “broadcast the news about time, we affectionately called him the ‘town crier,’” Hirt said.
“Had Cecil not been handicapped, he would have been the mayor of Squirrel Hill,” he said. “In fact, there are many who would argue that he was already the mayor.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, Cecil’s and David’s disabilities, they set an example of lives well lived, according to Hirt.
“It was easy to feel sad for what could have been had the boys been ‘normal,’” he said. “But when I think about it more, I realize that we were much more enriched by them than they were by us. They were kind, thoughtful and innocent. They were pure souls that carried no ill-will toward anyone. They would be overwhelmed, as is our entire family, for the outpouring of support and prayers from people all over the world.”
Their congregation warmly embraced them, said Myers, noting that they were fixtures at TOL*OLS, and always ready to lend a helping hand.
“I don’t know if I am more proud of who they were, or how my congregation treated them,” Myers said. “I’ve only been in Squirrel Hill for a little more than a year, and to me this is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen. The beauty to which my congregants treated Cecil and David, and it is something I am very proud of.
“If you could open a picture dictionary and look up the definition of beautiful souls, in that book are the pictures of Cecil and David,” he added.
In attendance at the service were Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Coach Mike Tomlin. The Rosenthals’ sister, Michele Rosenthal, formerly worked for the Steelers as its community relations manager. Many other Steelers players were also in attendance, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Rabbi Aaron Bisno, senior rabbi of Rodef Shalom, read a condolence letter from Bishop David Zubik. Zubik sent his regrets for not being present at the funeral because he was out of town, and noted that a Mass had been offered for Cecil and David.
This was the first funeral for a victim of the Tree of Life attack attended by Peduto, who said that he would be attending the funerals of all the other victims that are not designated as “private.”
“I am feeling a range of emotions,” Peduto said following the service. “I have a very heavy heart and a lot of love for the Rosenthal family.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.