Trump pays respects in Pittsburgh in wake of synagogue attack

Trump visited a memorial set up where the massacre occurred, and met with with surviving victims at a Pittsburgh hospital.

By Associated Press

During their visit to Pittsburgh, where a shooting at a synagogue on Saturday that left 11 people dead, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stopped at a hospital to meet with victims of the attack.

The president and first lady also placed white roses and stones from the White House on each of 11 stars representing the victims of Saturday’s synagogue shooting at a memorial set up outside Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue — the site of the worst attack on Jews in U.S. history.

The name of each victim is written in black on a white-painted Jewish star. There also are red hearts on them.

According to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, the Trumps lit candles for each of the victims in the synagogue vestibule.

They were joined by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, as well as Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers and Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

Trump was also greeted by protestors, with some shouting “Leave Pittsburgh, leave Pennsylvania” about a block and a half from the Tree of Life Synagogue.

As Trump drove away, protesters chanted, “Make America peaceful again.”

Mixed Feelings

Prior to the visit, Pittsburgh swirled with mixed feelings about the president’s presence.

To Marianne Novy, Trump isn’t wanted “unless he really changes his ways.”

For David Dvir, politics should take a pause for grief: “It’s our president, and we need to welcome him.”

The president’s visit to the Pittsburgh neighborhood, where Novy and Dvir live, comes as he struggles to balance appeals for national unity with partisan campaign rhetoric just a week before contentious midterm elections.

Barry Werber, 76, who said he survived the massacre by hiding in a dark storage closet as the gunman rampaged through the building, said he hoped Trump wouldn’t visit, noting that the president has embraced the politically fraught label of “nationalist.” Werber said the Nazis were nationalists.

“It’s part of his program to instigate his base,” Werber said, and “bigots are coming out of the woodwork.”

Novy, 73, a retired college English professor, said she signed an open letter asking Trump not to come to Pittsburgh. “His language has encouraged hatred and fear of immigrants, which is part of the reason why these people were killed,” she said.

Just minutes before the synagogue attack, the shooter apparently took to social media to rage against HIAS, a Jewish organization that resettles refugees under contract with the U.S. government.

Dvir, 52, the owner of Murray Avenue Locksmith in Squirrel Hill, said of Trump, “I think he made some mistakes, but he is a great president.” He added that it would be “a shame” if the community protested the president’s visit.

‘I am a citizen, he is my president’

Asked Monday if Trump has done enough to condemn white nationalism, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president “has denounced racism, hatred and bigotry in all forms on a number of occasions.”

She added: “Some individuals — they’re grieving, they’re hurting. The president wants to be there to show the support of this administration for the Jewish community. The rabbi said that he is welcome as well.”

Local and religious leaders were divided on whether Trump should visit. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, told reporters ahead of the announced visit that the White House ought to consult with the families of the victims about their preferences and asked that the president not come during a funeral.

“If the president is looking to come to Pittsburgh, I would ask that he not do so while we are burying the dead,” Peduto said. “Our attention and our focus is going to be on them, and we don’t have public safety that we can take away from what is needed in order to do both.”

But Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was conducting Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue when the shooter opened fire, made clear the president would be welcome, telling CNN: “The president of the United States is always welcome. I am a citizen. He is my president. He is certainly welcome.”

Shulamit Bastacky, 77, a Holocaust survivor and neighbor of victim Melvin Wax, expressed hope that fraught political issues and protests would not overshadow the remembrances.

“You can protest later on,” she added. “To me it’s sacred what happened here.”