David and Cecil Rosenthal Personal Reflection: Brotherhood, Developmental Disabilities, and Loss

Wed, November 07, 2018

Elizabeth AsenThis is what I know. On Saturday, October 27, people attended services at Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill suburb of Pittsburgh. Of the nearly 100 attendees, 11 people would not witness that night’s sunset, the symbol of the end of the Jewish Sabbath.

In the ensuing days, I turned on the news and stared at pictures of the people who lost their lives. When David and Cecil Rosenthal, two brothers who attended Shabbat services weekly, appeared on the screen, I paused. Cecil, 59, and David, 54, smiled at the camera. They appeared happy. When I saw them, I gazed into the faces of so many people that I have supported, including family members that I love. Cecil and David were devoted brothers, proud Jews, and friends to many. They also happened to be people with developmental disabilities.

As a person who works with and has family members with developmental disabilities, I immediately felt a sense of shock. In the few descriptions I had read in the immediate breaking news, not one had mentioned developmental disabilities. Today, as I peruse the articles published about the gentlemen, I have read about their involvement in employment and residential services in their Squirrel Hill Community.

Through their work, extracurriculars, and weekly attendance at their synagogue, David and Cecil were integrated into and embraced in an inclusive setting. They had the freedom and dignity to practice their religion. At YAI, we aim for “Person-Centered Thinking,” where the people we support are empowered to select and participate in activities that are meaningful to them. As I read about the Rosenthal brothers, I truly believe that they felt comfortable in and loved at Tree of Life Synagogue. For any person, especially those whom are often treated differently or marginalized, what more could you ask for than to be respected and validated in your place of worship and your community? It is as transformative for people with developmental disabilities to be integrated into diverse settings as it is for neurotypical people with whom they may surround themselves.

I commend the people who supported David and Cecil for fostering an environment of inclusion and tolerance. I can picture the brothers greeting people at the door. I can see them tapping their feet to the music. I can hear Cecil’s laugh that many described as “infectious.” Mostly, though, on a personal note, I can understand the bond that the brothers shared.

My two first cousins were sisters with developmental disabilities. Growing up, I witnessed their unbreakable connection. When people misunderstood my cousin’s speech, her sister would serve as a translator, explaining to people what her sister had just said. Just as neurotypical siblings are taught to help each other and to love one another, siblings with developmental disabilities often also establish an enduring bond of trust, understanding, companionship and deep love.

This is what I don’t know. I do not know why 11 lives were lost that day. What I do know is that it is our job as educators, friends, and humans to tell the stories of the people we support who are no longer alive. Even if we did not know them personally, we must commemorate the lives of Cecil and David because they are a part of our disability community. I will continue my work in the Rosenthal Brothers’ memory.