Joseph Sabino Mistick: Evil in my neighborhood

November 27, 2018

Evil stopped in my neighborhood this time. It made no sense that it would happen here, until it happened, and we thought for a moment that we should have seen it coming. But, just as quickly, it made no sense again.

The deaths of 11 of our Squirrel Hill neighbors, gunned down by a madman at their synagogue, could never make sense.

There had been omens. White nationalism is on the rise, as we saw when neo- Nazis marched in Charlottes­ville, chanting, “The Jews will not replace us.” Hate speech is everywhere.

And the lessons of history are always there. Eighty years ago, nearly to the week, Nazis burned and bombed every synagogue in Vienna, Austria, and arrested 10,000 Jews.

But, Mister Rogers lived here. He walked the streets and shopped and nodded hello, just like everyone else. Like him, the neighborhood has always respected and celebrated our differences.

Sophie Masloff lived in Squirrel Hill. Pittsburgh’s “Jewish Grandma” mayor, who served through the early 1990s, also chaired the board of the Catholic Youth Organization, which did not seem unusual to anyone who knows Pittsburgh.

In this town, merging cars take turns, and drivers who barge ahead must be new here or from out of town. We work together like that, even on the big things, which is why most of us would never live anywhere else.

Squirrel Hill is a Jewish neighborhood and a Christian neighborhood, and Muslim and Hindu, too. Our faiths are intertwined, sometimes by marriage or simply because we are neighbors, and our doors are always open.

Our family has a Jewish branch, and we celebrate the holidays with a Christmas tree and a menorah, which is not uncommon here. And, we say “Happy Holidays,” not to be politically correct, but because we cannot always remember who worships where.

We feel brokenhearted, but Squirrel Hill and Pittsburgh have not been broken. And our genetic intolerance of phonies is stronger than ever.

“Thoughts and prayers,” sent from distant politicians who are afraid to do anything to control access to military-style weapons, are meaningless.

And, politicians who say that this is a mental health problem and not a gun problem, while voting to dismantle Obamacare and its mental health coverage, are fooling no one.

Those who think lip service during a tragedy is enough should know this: Evil can stop in their neighborhoods, too. We will work to save them from themselves, but it would be nice if they lent a hand.

Jeff Swensen, a national news photographer and Pittsburgher, was at the press gathering on the morning of the attack, which he figured was his 20th mass shooting.

“What happens next is rarely covered,” he said, with the world-weary resignation of someone who has seen too much. “These families are shattered.”

Here, we are real neighbors with a tradition of pulling together. And that will help. Memories of the fallen will be held in our hearts and their families will not be forgotten.

And, while the fight to destroy the malignant ideas of the haters will be a long one, we are in it to the end.

This is Squirrel Hill. This is Pittsburgh.

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