What Would Mister Rogers Say?

Published: October 30, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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In less than seven days we have seen: what has now grown to 15 pipe bombs delivered to top Democrats, actor Robert DeNiro and cable news network CNN by vocal Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc; a school shooting near Charlotte, North Carolina; white racist Gregory Bush shot two black shoppers at a Kentucky grocery store; and earlier that same day – in what the American Defamation League believes to be “the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States” – Robert Bowers, murdered 11 congregants at The Tree of Life synagogue in the Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For those who may not remember, the small neighborhood of Squirrel Hill was Fred Rogers real neighborhood. Yes, that Mister Rogers.

What made Fred Rogers special was his respectful manner and approach to adults as well as to children. He would look into the television camera and tell all who listened, “You know, you don’t have to look like everybody else to be acceptable and to feel acceptable.”

When his death was announced in 2003, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, an occasional guest on “Neighborhood” said in a statement, “Through music and stories, his caring and wisdom transcended every barrier; his advocacy for children was truly an advocacy for the human race. My family and I are incredibly grateful to have enjoyed his friendship and we will miss him.”

Listening to the stories of all these tragedies, particularly those at The Tree of Life, I kept thinking: what would Mister Rogers say; what words of caring and wisdom would he offer?

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Rogers once said, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

And in his neighborhood, those “helpers” did step forward.

On hearing the news of the synagogue tragedy, The Hill reported (Oct. 29), Wasi Mohamed, the executive director of The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh contacted The Tree of Life.

“We just want to know what you need,” Mohamed said. “If it’s people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We’ll be there.

“If you need anything at all, if you need food for the families, if you just need someone to come to the grocery store because you don’t feel safe in this city, we’ll be there. And I’m sure everybody in the room would say the same thing.”

The Islamic Center, The Hill added, had raised more than $70,000 for victims and their families.

What would Rogers say about that?

I’m sure he’d just smile, confirming our better angels at work.

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