PITTSBURGH (KTVU) - As four of the 11 funerals for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims were poised to take place on Tuesday, the congregation's former rabbi said that he wishes President Trump would take a little more time before visiting the shocked city.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump planned to visit Pittsburgh to "express the support of the American people and to grieve with the Pittsburgh community," the White House said.
"I would urge the president to wait a week," former Tree of Life Rabbi Chuck Diamond, who has become the unofficial spokesman of the tragedy, told KTVU by phone. "This week is about remembering the victims and comforting the families. Politics aside, any president would be a distraction."
This particular president, however, Diamond said, is "so divisive." While the president certainly has his share of fans, Diamond noted that where he stands in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, where Robert Gregory Bowers, 46, is charged with bursting into Shabbat services killing 11 people with an AR-15 because he hated Jews, most of his community opposes him.
"If he could just come in and not make it about himself, that would be one thing," Diamond said. "But I'm not sure he's capable of that."
Several others shared in Diamond's views. Shooting survivor Barry Werber wasn't keen on a visit from a president who has embraced the politically fraught term "nationalist." The left-leaning group, Bend the Arc, wrote an open letter telling Trump he is only welcome in Pittsburgh only when he "fully denounces white nationalism." A protest is planned in Pittsburgh during the president's visit Yet the current Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers told CNN that the president is "certainly welcome."
Jewish law requires funerals to be held as quickly as possible, often within 24 hours. In this case, the deadliest Jewish attack in U.S. history, the soonest the bodies can be buried was Tuesday.
Among the first to be buried are intellectually disabled brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, both in their 50s, who lived together, worshipped together, and were regular Saturday morning greeters at the Tree of Life synagogue.
Steve Chabon, the dean of students at College Prep in Oakland, Calif. lived on the same street as the Rosenthal brothers for a time when he was a child. "They were beautiful souls. Innocent. Simple," Chabon told KTVU as he met with the Jewish club on campus this week to discuss anti-Semitism and their feelings about the senseless killings. He wondered aloud: "Who will sit in their chairs at shul? Who will be greeters now?:
Funerals were also set Tuesday for Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, a family-medicine practitioner known for his caring and kindness, and Daniel Stein, a man seen as part of the core of his congregation. Other victims' funerals have been scheduled through Friday. At 54, David Rosenthal was the youngest victim.
The oldest victim was 97-year-old Rose Mallinger. Diamond said it has been mistakenly reported that Mallinger survived the Holocaust. He said that isn't true.
Through all the sorrow, anti-Semitism and security changes at synagogues across the country, Diamond said he still feels lucky and grateful that so many people have been coming out in support of him and the larger Jewish community."
"It's definitely sad that we have to think about these things," Diamond said. "But overall, I feel safe. We are a close-knit community. I'm feeling hope. There's a lot of good people out there."
KTVU's Rob Roth and the Associated Press contributed to this report. The reporting for this story was done from Oakland, Calif.