“The more I think about it, the more I wonder if God and neighbor are somehow One. ‘Loving God, Loving neighbor’- the same thing? For me, coming to recognize that God loves every neighbor is the ultimate appreciation.” – Fred Rogers
Over the weekend, there was a mass shooting in Mister Rogers neighborhood. Kids across the country through generations heard from Rogers about his neighborhood- about caring for people who are different from you, how to deal with your emotions, how to work together and how to raise children to be loving and kind. I think that’s what makes this tragedy so hard to wrap my head around. The fictional Mister Rogers neighborhood wasn’t fictional at all- it was Squirrel Hill. How could such deep hatred come here? If violent hate can intrude on a place like that, is there anywhere we’re safe from it?
I couldn’t pull myself away from the news. From social media. I report on tragedies all too often, but they’ve always been someone else’s heartbreak. They’ve been someone else’s community’s worst day. And then the heartbreak was mine. It was ours.
It wasn’t news about somewhere I’ve never been with names I’d never heard of. Every moment of the tragedy was so personal. The streets of Squirrel Hill have served as my haven since I was a kid. It was where my friends lived, and it was the center of the strongest community, our EKC community, I’ve ever been a part of. David Johnson isn’t a news anchor and a colleague. He’s my friend’s dad. He’s a part of our camp family. He’s a neighbor. Aaron Martin isn’t a reporter. He’s a fellow Mt. Lebanon grad who likely remembers the day our schools were on lock-down when a gunman went on a deadly antisemitic, racist rampage, shooting holes through the windows of my synagogue. I’m so proud of the work they did this weekend and so sad they had to do it. The faces and names on cable news have been in my life most of my life. It was all too familiar. Too painful.
Here we are again. Another generation of Jewish children in our community learning that being Jewish means you have reason to be scared. That no matter how strong, loving, and tolerant your community is, hate can rear its ugly head. You can be targeted simply because of what you believe and where you worship.
But I hope this weekend they also learned a lesson about love. What I saw this weekend is what makes Pittsburgh the steel city. We are different in how we always come together. The unity of the city seen at a Super Bowl parade activated by the worst tragedy our city’s ever seen. It’s hard to believe love can overcome hate after this, but then I saw how Soldiers and Sailors formed a steel curtain that can’t be beat.
I heard from so many people--neighbors, friends, colleagues from all over the country, some I haven’t talked to in years. They reached out to make sure my family was safe and to make sure we knew that we were loved. We’re thankful that we weren’t directly affected but our hearts are so deeply broken. The outpouring of support and kind words made me sure hate remains in the minority.
I grew up in a place where my mom came in to school to teach my friends about Jewish holidays, where our Presbyterian next-door neighbors invited us to church, where we celebrated our different faiths by celebrating together. I know Pittsburgh isn’t perfect. I know there are divisions and room for improvement, but I also believe Pittsburgh is special in how we live every day. I may live in a bigger city now, but my heart is always home in that special place.
We still live by Mister Rogers words. We don’t just look for the helpers, but we become the helpers. There are always people helping.
I love you, Squirrel Hill.