News Obituary

Brothers killed in rage at Pittsburgh synagogue lived in peace as laughing, gentle giants

“The brothers were developmentally disabled and lived in a group home, but as their rabbi said, “That was where they slept. Tree of Life was their home.”


PITTSBURGH — The Rodef Shalom Temple, a little more than a mile from the Tree of Life Synagogue, was packed.

The 1,200 seats under the ornate, vaulted dome were filled nearly an hour before the beginning of Tuesday’s service for David and Cecil Rosenthal, and the rest of the mourners lined the walls three deep, spilling out into the lobby.

As the brothers’ family filed past their coffins in front of a stage, the sanctuary fell silent. A baby cried.

Everybody in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood knew David and Cecil Rosenthal, ages 54 and 59. They were devoted to their temple, never missing shabbat services at Tree of Life Synagogue.

The brothers were developmentally disabled and lived in a group home, but as their rabbi said, “That was where they slept. Tree of Life was their home.”

“David and Cecil were men,” their sister, Diane Rosenthal, told the congregation. “But, as you know, we referred to them as boys.

“They were innocent, like boys, not hardened, like men with age and experience,” she said. “We cherish our memories of David and Cecil, how they lived their lives with joy, love and happiness, not with resentment and hate.”

They were gentle giants, said their rabbi, Jeffrey Myers.

“They were two of the sweetest human beings you could ever meet,” Myers said.

And those gentle giants, those sweet men, those men who lived their lives with joy and love and happiness lost their lives in a spasm of terrible violence, two of the 11 human beings who were gunned down while worshiping their God, dying in a place that they called home.

Although it comes as little comfort for their family that David and Cecil Rosenthal died in a place they loved, “the entire world is sharing your grief,” Myers said. “You do not walk alone during these difficult days.”

The entire world, until four days ago, did not know David and Cecil Rosenthal. Those who did wished that they did not have to wait for them to perish in such a horrific manner to introduce them.

They were very different. Cecil Rosenthal, 59, was outgoing and gregarious, and they called him the unofficial mayor of Squirrel Hill.

David Rosenthal, 54, was more reserved, private, shy, said Diane Rosenthal’s husband, Michael Hirt. But the man had a wicked sense of humor.

Whenever Hirt would call, David Rosenthal would answer the phone, “Hey, Michael, the police are looking for you.” Hirt would reply, “No, David, the police are looking for you.”

David Rosenthal loved anything related to police officers and firefighters. His most cherished possession was a police scanner that he carried with him always.

Every year, his sister and brother-in-law would take him to a flea market to buy a new pair of sunglasses, the mirrored, wire-framed ones that state troopers favor. He was fastidious and always liked everything in its place.

“If you put a water glass down on a table and turned away, when you looked back, it was gone,” Hirt said. “David would take it to the kitchen, rinse it in the sink and put it in the dishwasher.”

He was a lot like his mother, Joy.

He loved women, his brother-in-law said. He would ask women, “Are you married?” And before they could answer, he’d ask, “Want to go to Hawaii?”

When the family got together for holidays, he would ask Hirt, “Want to go out and have a beer and meet some girls?”

He didn’t drink, except for his favorite, a Shirley Temple with extra cherries. And he liked to be in bed by 8 o’clock, Hirt said.

Cecil Rosenthal was “the consummate politician,” Hirt said. He was the mirror image of his father, Elie.

“Cecil always knew everybody’s business,” Hirt said. “How many times did Cecil stop you on the street to tell you about somebody’s pending marriage or pending divorce?”

He always knew whose mother or father or son or daughter was ailing and would ask about their welfare.

Once, the family tried to keep a funeral service secret, not wanting to upset the brothers, Hirt said. Of course, Cecil Rosenthal found out about it and made his way to the service.

At his nieces’ bat mitzvah, Cecil Rosenthal “went from table to table to tell everyone that he was the party planner,” Hirt said.

He would go along on trips to the flea market and always buy two things, a wristwatch and a calendar.

“The watch never lasted more than a day or two. He’d lose it or break the band because he disliked anything on his wrist,” his brother-in-law said.

He also would buy greeting cards. Hirt didn’t know why since he could neither read nor write, except for being able to spell his name.

Once, Hirt received a greeting card from Cecil Rosenthal in the mail. When he opened it, “it was a scramble of letters. In the middle of that was his name, spelled out by him.”

Cecil Rosenthal loved to eat and had a sweet tooth, his brother-in-law said. And he loved family gatherings, especially Thanksgiving.

Hirt, who lives in Chicago, last talked to Cecil Rosenthal a week ago and he already was saying that he would see them at Thanksgiving.

“Thanksgiving will never be the same,” said Hirt, choking back sobs.

“Our lives were more enriched by knowing them,” he said. “They were thoughtful and innocent. They were pure souls who carried no ill will for anyone.”

“There was not an ounce of hate in them,” Myers said.

“What do you say to their family?” the rabbi asked. “Parents are not supposed to bury their children. I say to you, ‘You gave us this beautiful gift of David and Cecil. We thank you for sharing that gift with us.’

“Their spirits will always be with us,” he said. “May David and Cecil rest in peace.”

Mike Argento reports for the York (Pa.) Daily Record. Follow him on Twitter: @FnMikeArgento