August 18, 2019

Remembering ‘the Boys’: David and Cecil Rosenthal

David Rosenthal, left, and Cecil Rosenthal Photo from Facebook/CNN

The funerals of brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54 — who were killed in the Tree of Life Congregation shootings on Oct. 27 — were held at Rodef Shalom synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Oct. 30. Below is the text of the eulogy delivered by their brother-in-law, Michael Hirt. 

David was very social in some respects and, at the same time, private and shy. Phone calls with him always started with “Hey, Michael, the police are looking for you.” To which I would always playfully reply, “No, David, the police are looking for you.”

He loved this type of banter. David loved anything related to the police or the fire department. When his favorite toy, the scanner radio, broke recently, he was relentless in asking us to fix or replace it. He carried that scanner with him everywhere he went.

David was an intensely hard worker and he loved his job. Many of his work awards hang on his parents’ walls. His jobs were always related to cleaning, and he was fanatical about keeping things neat and in order. If you were sitting in a chair and put your water glass down for a minute and turned your head, it would be gone. He would scoop it up, take it the kitchen, rinse it, put it in the dishwasher. 

He was a reflection of his mother, Joy. She and David were a team in the kitchen, especially with her recent broken leg. And he was her right hand. He gathered up dirty plates after dinner, rinsed everything, loaded the dishwasher, and put everything away. 

David loved women. I’m sure that most of the ladies here today were at one time or another asked by David, “Are you married?” Followed by, “Wanna go to Hawaii?”

During our annual family holidays, he would always suggest that we go out and have a beer and meet some girls. I agreed that this sounded like a lot of fun. Of course, David didn’t drink, except for his Shirley Temple with extra cherries, and he usually liked to be in bed by 8 p.m., not earlier. But the excitement of the plan -making made David very happy.

Every year, David would ask us to take him to the flea market so that we could buy him a new pair of sunglasses and a new bottle of cologne. He always picked the exact same sunglasses: mirrored lenses, the state highway patrolman type. Always the same two items. Always. 

His choice of items was consistent with his persona: a ladies man. If David had not been handicapped, I think he would have been a movie star or a celebrity that maintained a fine balance between public and private life.

“They were kind, thoughtful and innocent. They were pure souls who carried no ill will toward anyone.” — Michael Hirt

Cecil was very different from David. Cecil was the consummate politician. The planner. The organizer. The socialite. To this end, he was his father Elie’s mirror image. Cecil knew everyone in town. He knew everyone’s business. He knew if your mother was sick or if your grandfather had died. How many times did Cecil stop one of you on the street to tell you about someone’s pending marriage or pending divorce? If you wanted local news gossip, Cecil was your source.

When Cecil answered the phone, he would thunder, “HELLO DEAR!” and immediately transition to questions about how our daughters Jen and Li Wen were doing. “How is the dog and does he miss me?” And of course, “When are you coming to Pittsburgh?”  

Cecil always inquired about the well-being of those who were not well. He would ask, “How’s your mother? Tell her I’m thinking about her.” 

If Cecil was anywhere in earshot and we were discussing something we wanted to keep private, such as a divorce or someone’s illness, we would take special care to try and make sure that he wasn’t listening. But he would always manage to find out, and he would broadcast the news throughout town. We affectionately called him the town crier. 

On one occasion we tried to keep a funeral we were attending a secret from the boys so as not to upset them. Somehow, Cecil managed to find out about the funeral service and managed on his own, by a combination of walking and riding the bus, or hawking a ride from someone, to find his way to the service and pay his respects. 

I still remember him strolling in, not wearing his usual suit and tie and carrying the bag of trinkets and papers that always accompanied him. This was Cecil’s character.

When the girls had their B’nai Mitzvah several years ago, Cecil wandered from table to table to introduce himself, and he proudly told everyone that he was the party planner. And in a way he was. He talked about the B’nai Mitzvah for what seemed like years before the event actually occurred. 

Cecil absolutely loved a party, and I can guarantee that he is looking down upon us now, asking, “Are you proud of me?”

Cecil also had his list of items that he needed from the flea market during our annual holiday get-together. These always included the same items: a new wristwatch and a calendar. The watch never lasted more than a day or two. He would either lose it or break the band. He disliked anything on his wrists. 

Curiously, after we bought him the watch and calendar, he would always wander into a particular store to buy greeting cards using his own money. I was always curious about the cards he would buy because he could neither read nor write, with the exception of being able to spell his name. 

This was always curious to me until one day I received a letter in the mail from him. It had been addressed by his supervisor at his group home. The card contained nothing but jumbles of random letters but somewhere in the middle of the jumble was his name, clearly spelled out.

His choices of things were consistent with his character as the planner and the organizer. Had Cecil not been handicapped, he would have been the mayor of Squirrel Hill. In fact, there are many who would argue that he was already the mayor. 

Last weekend was the last time we spoke to the boys. The last thing Cecil said to me in his thunderous voice was, “We’ll be seeing you in Florida for Thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving will never be the same for me.

It was easy to feel sad for what could have been, had the boys been “normal.” But when I think about it more, I realize that we were much more enriched by them than they were by us. They were kind, thoughtful and innocent. They were pure souls who carried no ill will toward anyone. They would be overwhelmed — as is our entire family — with the outpouring of support and the prayers of people from all over the world. 

We miss the boys.