I’ve lived in New York City longer than I lived in Pittsburgh, but I still consider the ‘burg’ my home. While I root for the Yankees, I’m still a Pirates fan at heart. Admittedly, football is not my favorite sport, but if it comes to following the Steelers over any other team, I’m in!
Years ago when Rand McNally named Pittsburgh the world’s ‘most livable city’ — and this was way before many tech companies discovered it for themselves — many of my New York friends laughed. At that time, it wasn’t the most cosmopolitan city — and it still isn’t. But I found myself defending the city. Why? Because it was the best-kept secret… until now.
Pittsburgh is known for its friendliness, its verdant parks and outdoor spaces, its numerous and very fine educational institutions, its reasonable cost of living, its strong and cohesive Jewish community, its active cultural scene, its unabashed civic pride and its acceptance of diversity.
Squirrel Hill, where I was born and blessed to have been raised, is a quiet, family-friendly, idyllic neighborhood in the heart of Pittsburgh. While it has a suburban feel, it’s one of many lovely neighborhoods in the city. When I was growing up, the majority of the Jewish population resided in Squirrel Hill — the hub being Forbes and Murray Avenues, where Jewish stores populated the streets, where we kids used to go after school to hang out at the Squirrel Hill newsstand or the JCC, and where you could hear Yiddish being spoken by the old-timers — my immigrant grandfather, for one.
As my grandfather Abe (Abiedear, as he was known), strolled along the avenues, the store owners greeted him by name. In fact, he was informally titled “The Mayor of Forbes and Murray.” And while fewer Jewish merchants line the busy intersection today, it’s not unusual for people of all faiths to smile and say hello as they pass you in Squirrel Hill. It’s just that kind of place. It’s nice. After all, this is Mr. Rogers’ real-life neighborhood.
That’s why, when I heard the awful news on Saturday morning, I was in disbelief. “This can’t be happening in MY neighborhood …in MY city! This is not the city I grew up in,” I kept telling myself. This cannot have happened in the city I return to quite frequently to visit my elderly father, cousins and friends.
It is also not surprising that Forbes and Murray was the intersection where a spontaneous gathering took place on Saturday night in remembrance of the victims. But the world has changed, and now the peacefully naive Squirrel Hill has changed, too.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around this tragedy as my heart weeps. But I know how my fellow Pittsburghers of all denominations think and feel. I know deep in my soul that this horrific event will not deter my community nor the city I still call my home. In the weeks, months and years to come, as the community and the city gradually heals, this hatred act of anti-Semitism will only make our civic pride stronger, and we will persevere with greater resolve.
We will still be the”most livable city,” but our frame of reference will now be, “before the shooting and after” — and Forbes and Murray will be remembered as the intersection where all faiths gathered.
Community | We Can Heal Squirrel Hill By Standing Together — As We Have Always Done
This story "Let’s Bring Peace Back To Squirrel Hill" was written by Roberta Caplan.