Trump's synagogue visit stirs protest

Mrs Melania Trump, with Mr Donald Trump (left) and Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, placing a flower at a memorial at the synagogue.
Mrs Melania Trump, with Mr Donald Trump (left) and Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, placing a flower at a memorial at the synagogue.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Thousands held rally nearby as US President visited Jewish temple attacked by gunman

PITTSBURGH • US President Donald Trump on Tuesday visited the Pittsburgh synagogue attacked by an anti-Semitic gunman and lit candles for each of the 11 slain worshippers, while thousands protested against his presence in the city and victims' families began burying their dead.

The presidential trip, which sources said congressional leaders of both parties declined to join, came as Mr Trump drew widespread disapproval for inflammatory rhetoric that critics said may have helped provoke the deadliest attack ever on American Jewry.

Shrugging off public assertions from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto that Mr Trump's visit was ill-timed, the President entered the Tree of Life temple, where Saturday's shooting rampage occurred, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump.

They were greeted by Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who led them inside the temple to light ritual yahrzeit candles in memory of the victims. Emerging about 18 minutes later, the couple walked to a memorial outside the building, where the First Lady placed a flower and the President placed a small stone on a marker for each of the dead.

Mr Trump, whose visit press secretary Sarah Sanders described as "very humbling and sad", left in his motorcade after about 30 minutes at the synagogue. He made no public remarks. "He wanted today to be about showing respect for the families and the friends of the victims as well as for Jewish Americans," Ms Sanders said.

Several thousand protesters, an ethnically mixed crowd of all ages, including members of Pittsburgh's tight-knit Jewish community, held an anti-Trump rally about a block away from the synagogue just as his visit began, singing Old Testament psalms and carrying signs with slogans such as "We build bridges not walls".

Many of their signs carried slogans and imagery invoking one of Squirrel Hill's most famous residents, the late Fred Rogers, whose long-running children's television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood featured lessons on friendship and kindness. Their march started on the street where he grew up and ended at the church where he belonged.

 
 
 
 

Mr Trump's visit to Pennsylvania's second-largest city came just seven days before national elections that will determine whether his Republican Party will maintain control of both houses of Congress or whether the Democrats will seize a majority in one chamber or both.

The President and his wife were joined by Ms Ivanka Trump and Mr Jared Kushner, his daughter and son-in-law, who are Jewish and serve as White House advisers, and by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is also Jewish.

The first funerals for the victims of the attack were held on Tuesday, followed by two more yesterday.

Robert Bowers, 46, killed 11 people when he stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue last Saturday and opened fire on worshippers, yelling: "All Jews must die."

He was charged on Monday with 29 federal felony counts, including hate crimes, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

The attack has heightened a national debate over Mr Trump's rhetoric, which critics say has contributed to a surge in white nationalist and neo-Nazi activity. His administration denies he has encouraged far-right extremism.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2018, with the headline 'Trump's synagogue visit stirs protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe