It’s been just over a week since a mass murderer took the lives of 11 individuals during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Penn. Among the dead were two brothers with intellectual disabilities.
Cecil and David Rosenthal, ages 59 and 54, were well-loved by fellow congregants at the Tree of Life and throughout Pittsburgh’s Jewish and secular communities. And while many religious institutions have struggled to make their services, facilities and cultural climates accessible and inclusive to members with disabilities, it seems as if the Tree of Life had it right.
In remembrances published and broadcast across countless media outlets, the brothers were warmly praised for their devotion to the synagogue and their communities, their kindness and the joy they brought to others. During the brothers’ funeral on Oct. 30, their rabbi, Jeffrey Myers told the overflowing sanctuary full of more than 1,400 mourners, “They were two of the sweetest human beings you could ever meet,” according to The Algemeiner.com.
Not only were the Rosenthal brothers beloved, they were active contributors to synagogue and community life. Per Triblive.com, “The brothers were fixtures at Tree of Life. Both helped out before, during and after services. David Rosenthal was meticulous about arranging prayer books and shawls. Cecil Rosenthal was a greeter.”
David and Cecil lived together in apartment supported by Achieva, a social service agency in Pittsburgh. Their lives were full. In addition to synagogue life, Cecil was active with the local Best Buddies Program and was known as “the unofficial mayor of Squirrel Hill,” according to USA Today. Said Jason Bertocchi, former chapter president and local Best Buddies board member: “Cecil became a true staple of our chapter over his 8+ years, and, recently, would always welcome me with open arms and meaningful conversation each and every time we would get together. Our chapter suffered a loss of a family member yesterday. Cecil was a wonderful man and an even better friend.” David worked for Good Will Industries and though more introverted than his brother, was said to have had a terrific sense of humor.
As lifelong Tree of Life congregant Jerry Solomon told the New York Times, the fact that the brothers were staples of the community was taken for granted. “Today we talk about inclusion, but they were just part of the community, and I didn’t think anything about it… It was my introduction to the fact that there are people like that and they are just like the rest of us,” said Solomon.