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Synagogue victims Cecil and David Rosenthal remembered as loving, inseparable

| Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, 12:48 p.m.
This undated photo provided by Barry Werber shows Cecil Rosenthal, left. Rosenthal was killed when a gunman opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (Courtesy of Barry Werber via AP)
This undated photo provided by Barry Werber shows Cecil Rosenthal, left. Rosenthal was killed when a gunman opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (Courtesy of Barry Werber via AP)
David, left, and Cecil Rosenthal at a Best Buddies event at Lake Erie.
Courtesy of Best Buddies
David, left, and Cecil Rosenthal at a Best Buddies event at Lake Erie.
Cecil Rosenthal, right, with Heather Shiwarski, former director of the Pittsburgh chapter of Best Buddies
Heather Shiwarski
Cecil Rosenthal, right, with Heather Shiwarski, former director of the Pittsburgh chapter of Best Buddies
Cecil Rosenthal
Heather Shiwarski
Cecil Rosenthal

Raye Coffey raised three children, but she could have been considered a surrogate mom, of sorts, for Cecil and David Rosenthal.

The brothers lived next door to the Coffeys in Stanton Heights and often could be found at the Coffey residence.

Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, both of Squirrel Hill, were among the 11 victims of the synagogue shooting Saturday in Squirrel Hill.

“Cecil and David were in the house constantly,” said Coffey of Squirrel Hill, explaining that she had an open-door policy with the neighborhood kids. “We had the most marvelous relationship with their parents.

“Cecil was always a big brother. He was very warm and very loving. Whenever he would see us, he would always say, ‘Hi, Coffeys!’

“David was quieter. But both were … to die like this is horrendous.”

The Rosenthal brothers were affected by mental challenges, but that didn’t slow down the family, Coffey said.

Cecil was the oldest of Joy and Elie’s four children, David the third. The Rosenthals also have two daughters.

“They took the kids everyplace,” said Coffey, who said she hadn’t spoken to the family since the shooting. “They did everything with them.”

The Coffeys and Rosenthals lived next to each other for 20 years before the Coffeys moved to Monroeville.

“We were very, very close,” Coffey said. “In fact, when I was coming home from the hospital (with our youngest, Hal), nothing was really ready for the baby. I don’t know how she did it, but Joy and Elie set up everything. I had a nursery because of her.

“The best neighbors and best friends anyone could have had.”

More recently, Cecil and David lived together in an apartment in Squirrel Hill, Coffey said. They were regulars at Tree of Life, where Cecil could be found serving as a greeter, she said.

“Everybody knew them,” she said.

ACHIEVA, a group that works with people with disabilities, issued a statement mourning the loss of the Rosenthals.

“Cecil and David had a love for life and for those around them. As long-standing recipients of ACHIEVA’s residential and employment services, they were as much a part of the ACHIEVA family as they were their beloved neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.

“They loved life. They loved their community. They spent a lot of time at the Tree of Life, never missing a Saturday.”

Chris Schopf, vice president of residential supports at ACHIEVA, said the Rosenthals were “inseparable.”

“Cecil’s laugh was infectious. David was so kind and had such a gentle spirit. Together, they looked out for one another,” Schopf said. “They were inseparable. Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around.”

Cecil was active with the Pittsburgh chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that provides friendship and inclusion for people with disabilities, according to former director Heather Shiwarski.

“He was just a really sweet, gentle soul,” Shiwarski said. “Always very polite. Always calling you ‘Miss Lady’ and ‘Mister.’ Always asking how your family was.”

Once a year, Cecil would be invited to participate in a special service at Tree of Life Congregation in which he helped the rabbi, Shiwarski said. One year, Cecil invited Shiwarski and another former director of Best Buddies, Mahogany Thaxton, to be his guests.

“That was really, really a cool moment for me,” she said. “He was so proud that he was able to do that.”

Cecil was involved with Best Buddies for nearly 10 years, said Jason Bertocchi, 29, a board member for the organization. Bertocchi introduced Cecil to the program. Best Buddies hosts social gatherings for people with disabilities, and Bertocchi said Cecil loved to talk to people and eat.

“We did get him to dance a few times if we played the right songs,” Bertocchi said. “But he was really big on the food and the conversation.”

Cecil loved Best Buddies’ annual TasteBuds event in which people in the organization are paired with local chefs to cook. Cecil didn’t want to cook, Bertocchi said, because he didn’t want to miss out on tasting any of the food.

The TasteBuds event, which will happen Nov. 5 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, will always remind Bertocchi of Cecil.

“He loved to talk about the food,” Bertocchi said.

Cecil joined Best Buddies through the Duquesne University chapter. He was the oldest member by more than a decade, said Bertocchi, who was 20 at the time. Cecil came to every party dressed in a shirt and tie and sometimes a suit, very different from the mostly college-aged people around him.

Despite his age, towering stature and fancy clothes, Cecil fit right in.

At one of Best Buddies’ annual Red vs. Blue basketball games, where Duquesne’s men’s basketball team pairs with the university’s Best Buddies program, Cecil wanted to coach. He showed up in a suit and carried around a basketball and a rolled-up piece of paper, perhaps with a secret play, on it, Bertocchi said. Cecil cheered for both teams throughout. When Bertocchi said that, as a coach, he should really cheer for only one team, Cecil refused.

“They’re all my friends,” Bertocchi remembered Cecil saying.

A funeral for Cecil and David is scheduled for noon Tuesday at Rodef Shalom Temple, 4905 Fifth Ave., in Squirrel Hill, with visitation starting at 10 a.m. Interment will be at Tree of Life Memorial Park.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Cecil and David’s memory may be made to Tree of Life Congregation, 5898 Wilkins Ave., Pittsburgh 15217, or ACHIEVA, 711 Bingham St., Pittsburgh 15203. Arrangements are being handled by Ralph Schugar Chapel.

Rob Amen and Aaron Aupperlee are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach them at ramen@tribweb.com and aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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