WASHINGTON — The Tree of Life Congregation’s rabbi said on Thursday he was “pleasantly surprised” by US President Donald Trump’s “personal side” when he visited the Pittsburgh synagogue Wednesday following a vicious shooting there over the weekend.
The controversial president — whose visit was met by large protests from Jews and non-Jews alike who argued he’d given license to anti-Semites like the one who carried out Saturday’s attack — visited the shaken Jewish community of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill.
“I was privileged to have a private 15 or 20 minutes with the family,” said Jeffrey Myers. “The president was very warm, very consoling, put his hand on my shoulder, and the first question he asked me was, ‘Rabbi, tell me how are you doing.'”
During an interview with CNN on Thursday, Myers said he felt Trump revealed an aspect of himself — charismatic and empathetic — that is rarely on display for the American public.
“I must say throughout the time we spent together, I was pleasantly surprised by a warm and personal side to the president that I don’t think America has ever seen,” Myers said.
Over the course of Trump’s time in politics, he has become infamous for an apparent lack of compassion. During the 2016 campaign, he criticized the Muslim family of a slain US soldier. He attacked Puerto Rican leaders after the island was devastated by a hurricane in 2017. Most recently, he mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford over her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — since confirmed — sexually assaulted her in high school.
Many elected officials, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, objected to Trump’s visit, which they said should come after the those who were killed were buried.
The president did not offer public remarks during his Pittsburgh trip, but parts of his stop were televised, including his laying flowers and stones on the Stars of David commemorating the deceased.
He traveled with his Jewish daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and other Jewish members of his administration.
On Saturday, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh with an AR-15 and several handguns and opened fire on a Shabbat service. The suspect, identified as Robert Bowers, killed 11 congregants and injured four police officers, authorities said.
The ADL said in a statement that it believed the massacre was “the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”
Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged Bowers with 44 counts, including using a firearm to commit murder and other hate crimes, such as obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and obstructing the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer.
Bowers pleaded not guilty to all charges and requested a jury trial.