Not Squirrel Hill

Stronger Than HateA friend posted on Facebook yesterday afternoon about an active shooter in Pittsburgh. I quickly learned that a gunman had opened fire on the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

No. Please, no. Not Squirrel Hill.

Squirrel Hill is where I bought my first house as a single woman in my late 20s.

Yes, it is a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh. You would often see whole families walking together to worship on Saturday. I thought that was incredibly cool. A pedestrian, family-friendly neighborhood. A tree-lined, quiet, peaceful neighborhood of well-kept houses, with people pushing baby strollers, holding hands with each other, or walking their dog. You always saw people milling about.

But what really drew me to Squirrel Hill was how vibrant the community was…its little downtown area bustling with cafes, ice creameries, theatres, bookshops, boutiques, coffee shops, and the like. It was and still is incredibly eclectic. People of all faith and ethnicity live there in peace. My husband, who grew up in Utah, would sometimes shop at the Giant Eagle grocery store in his Birkenstocks and Hawaiian “lava lava” as mother called it, essentially a long skirt. No one batted an eye. This was nearly 20 years ago.  This was the same Giant Eagle where a long-haired hippie-looking violinist would play classical music on the sidewalk as you shopped. We hired her to serenade us and our guests as we stepped outside of the church after our wedding.

Squirrel Hill

Yep, you could walk the streets of Squirrel Hill any time day or night and feel perfectly safe. It was the first time in my life I felt I had come “home”. Man, I loved that community.

My love for that neighborhood and for Pittsburgh as a whole go hand-in-hand. For years I dreamed of moving back to that city and it was because of this funky, cozy little bustling community of friendly people, a hop, skip, and jump from downtown. Ok, that and my lifelong love of the Steelers.

Fred Rogers (aka “Mr. Rogers”) literally lived in Schenley Park, the neighborhood next to Squirrel Hill. His kindness and gentleness wasn’t a fluke. It seemed to me like everyone was that kind. Everyone was your neighbor.

To hear that 11 people were gunned down in Squirrel Hill yesterday, innocent lives who gathered for worship, is beyond heartbreaking. I don’t want this incident to define Squirrel Hill. I don’t want hate to define America. I’m sick of this happening.

I even had a Jewish friend of mine mark herself as “safe” on Facebook. I can’t believe this incident touches people I know. Frankly it doesn’t matter if it does or if it doesn’t: violence of this kind is abhorrent.

How can people be so incredibly fearful of and hate people they don’t know? How could this deranged human think it was plausible to connect the dots between peaceful Jews in going about their day in Pittsburgh and a “caravan” of Central Americans headed north at the Mexico/Guatemala border seeking asylum from violence themselves as a threat to himself or other Americans?

This gunman: did he feel like a man, a “real American”, gunning down 97-year-old Rose Mallinger  with his AK-15 assault rifle? These citizens ranged in age from their early 50s to 80s with Rose being the oldest. What a pitiful human this guy, needing to feel superior using an assault rifle to kill elderly people gathered to pray.

I’m tired of people saying that gun control won’t help. If it has any chance of stopping future home-grown terrorists by making it harder for them to get a gun they don’t already own, then let’s do it.

I just don’t understand the hate. I am stunned by Americans who take issue with immigrants and those who seek asylum. Americans who criticize or hate somehow think they’re special because they or their ancestors got here first. As I shared with some friends recently, 100+ years ago, the Irish, Poles, Italians, and Slavs were despised, spat upon, and discriminated against but now we wouldn’t bat an eye hanging with someone with that ethnic background today.  Today, Blacks, Jews, Arabs, and Hispanics are hated with slightly more tolerance for Asians. The fact is virtually every single one of us is the descendant of immigrant or is one.

What will it take? Alien invasion for us to realize we are one and the same?

The vast majority of people who come to or live in this country want to live in peace. Why can’t we just live in peace? What will it take to reverse the crazy?

God rest the departed souls who lived in peace as my neighbors once upon a time. God comfort those they leave behind. God help us all.

Me, March 1996, on the front porch of house I just bought by myself