I grew up in two neighborhoods.
I lived in the suburbs of Pittsburgh in my family’s Tudor home, surrounded by neighbors that became classmates, friends that eventually doubled as my extended family. I visited my other neighborhood most mornings as a little girl, my bed-head yet to be detangled and Fruity Pebbles overflowing from my bowl as Mr. Rogers welcomed me to be his neighbor.
Within the 30 minutes it took for my mom to brush my hair, Mr. Rogers taught me that all people, even puppets, are deserving of the utmost respect. And while my mornings spent with Officer Clemmons and Bob Dog are years behind me, I am lucky to have grown up in his neighborhood both on and off the television screen in Pittsburgh. Home to the nation’s most loved television neighborhood, there is no city that embodies what it means to be a neighbor quite like Pittsburgh does.
On Oct. 27, a hate-crime at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh resulted in the murder of 11 of our Jewish neighbors. Eleven people’s lives were stolen from them as they met to practice a faith built on love and community, just as Pittsburgh embodies.
It seems impossible to turn on the news today without hearing of another tragic event, and to see my city struck by such senseless evil made home feel farther away than ever.
As I sat in my apartment at Lehigh, five hours away from the neighborhood that raised me, I longed for the mornings in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, where love sheltered us from the inexplicable evil in the world.
This past summer, I saw “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, a documentary about Mr. Rogers’ life, both on- and off-screen — even though the two did not differ much. As the credits began to roll, an older woman behind me whispered to her friend, “Now I have to wonder if it is possible to be that kind nowadays.” But in Pittsburgh, a community that personifies the lessons learned in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, I say absolutely. In Pittsburgh, we don’t have to ask, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
We simply treat each other as such. No questions asked.
And when you look even closer at the communities that make Pittsburgh, you will see that the Jewish community, in particular, is one that values being a good neighbor above all else. While I grew up in a Christian home, I had the privilege of joining my friends and their families for celebrations, such as Bar or Bat Mitzvahs and Passover dinners.
No matter how clueless I looked as I attempted to follow prayers that were unfamiliar to me, not once was there a single judgment passed. The Jewish community does not pick and choose who they are a good neighbor to, they simply choose to be a neighbor to each and every person who crosses their path.
Horrible tragedies such as the Tree of Life shooting are hard to process, and turning on the news can make us feel helpless. When it’s your own city, your Jewish community and your neighbors, the heartache does not stop when the news cycle does.
While I have never felt farther away from my home city, Mr. Rogers said it best, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother said to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
In Pittsburgh, I do not worry that there will be an absence of helpers. And while the pain of Oct. 27 has already completely devastated the Pittsburgh neighborhood, seeing my friends and my neighbors, who I love so deeply, unify with our city’s love has reminded me that such inexplicable hate will never define our city. Only the outpouring of love can do that.
When I keep that love close to me, the truth is, I’m never too far from Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
Megan Brubaker, ’21, is an assistant lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]