Pittsburgh Rabbi Says He Saw Warm, Personal Side of Donald Trump America Hasn't Seen

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers Donald Trump Pittsburgh
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, alongside Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, place stones and flowers on a memorial as they pay their respects at the Tree of Life synagogue following last weekend’s shooting in Pittsburgh. Myers said he saw a warm, personal side of Trump America hasn’t seen. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump was met with mixed reactions during his visit to Pittsburgh following the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. Outside on the streets, protesters came out to criticize the president for visiting. But, inside the synagogue, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers saw a side of Trump he doesn't think America has seen.

Myers was leading his congregation in Shabbat services on Saturday when the gunfire broke out. On Wednesday, he met the president, first lady Melania Trump and senior advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. The rabbi explained to CNN that after Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer introduced him to the White House coalition, he shook Trump's hand and escorted him inside the synagogue.

Once inside, Myers had about 15 or 20 minutes to hold private conversations with the Trumps and Kushner, during which time, he said the president was very "warm" and "consoling." Before asking about anything else, Myers said the president turned to him and asked how he was doing.

"Throughout the time we spent together, I was pleasantly surprised by a warm, personal side to the president that I don't think America has ever seen," Myers said.

He added that he told his guests about his own personal experience during the shooting, which he said they found "shocking and upsetting." He also told them that hate speech has no place in America's society and that it leads to actions of hate, such as the deaths of eleven people from his congregation.

After his conversation with the Trumps and Kushner, some of the contents Myers respectfully asked to keep private, they lit memorial candles and the rabbi chanted the Jewish memorial prayer in both English and Hebrew. Myers then fulfilled Trump's request that he lead him and Melania to the makeshift memorial, where the president placed stones and the first lady placed white roses.

"I gave them a bit of a background story on each person because there was a human being who lived, who was a good, decent person, and the president needed to know something about these people because they too were his citizens," Myers told CNN.

After the shooting, many put the blame on Trump for emboldening people to carry out anti-Semitic attacks with his rhetoric. Former Tree of Life president Lynette Lederman said Trump was not welcome in Pittsburgh because he is the "purveyor of hate speech."

When the Trumps and Kushner arrived in Pittsburgh, about 2,000 protesters marched against the president and touted signs that called for Trump to renounce white nationalism.

However, not everyone believed that the president shouldn't come to Pittsburgh after the shooting. Ahead of Trump's visit, Myers said he was "certainly welcome."

"The president of the United States is always welcome," he said during an interview with CNN. "I'm a citizen—he's my president."

Political commentator John Burnett also posted a video on Twitter of the president at a Pittsburgh hospital, where he went to visit with some of the people who were injured during the shooting. A group of people wearing scrubs gathered near one of the hallways, and as the president walked by, they shouted their thanks and appreciation for his visiting.

Warm welcome for #Trump at hospital in #Pittsburgh. #SynagogueShooting #SynagogueAttack https://t.co/45VjvjMG7z

— John Burnett (@IamJohnBurnett) October 31, 2018

On Saturday, 11 people lost their lives when suspect Robert Bowers opened fire in the synagogue shortly after Shabbat services began. Bowers was charged with 44 counts, identified by CNN as:

  • 11 counts: obstruction of the free exercise of religious belief resulting in death
  • 11 counts: use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence
  • 2 counts: obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, resulting in bodily injury
  • 8 counts: obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer
  • 2 counts: use of a firearm during a crime of violence
  • 9 counts: possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence
  • 1 count: obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs involving use of a dangerous weapons and resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer

Thirty-two of the counts are punishable by death. On Thursday, Bowers entered a plea of not guilty and requested a jury trial.