Easter & Passover wishes, via Mr. Rogers

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“Won’t you be my neighbor?” Oh, how the world needs neighborliness this Easter/Passover season — between nations — above all. But close to home, in church and temple, this Holy Day season, the pulpits could sure use Mister (Fred) Rogers’s lessons. Yes, about being a good neighbor, not only on the Sabbath — like to the person next to you in the pew — and, of course, to members unable to get to the pews.

And the clergy must be most aware of the 50th anniversary celebrations since Mr. Rogers’s and his neighbors first blessed the airwaves. Sermons are needed about being that good neighbor and much more, which Fred Rogers emphasized on this multi-award-winning program. While directed to young children, may thought it appropriate for all generations. Perhaps it was even more than appropriate — but essential.

The program made its U.S. debut in 1968, lasting until 2001, just three years before Rogers succumbed to cancer in 2003, just shy of his 75th birthday. Those timeless programs are available to stream, of course and at music stores, if you can find those. Ah, Mr. Rogers would have something to say about losing our neighborhood stores – brick and mortar places which bring people together — all generations. These people places can go a long way to making it a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

These so universally loved programs were all about civility too, and don’t we need that. And especially in high places and in media/entertainment which so shape customs and views. And Mr. Rogers’s music could so change the world, the song about being a neighbor, and the sentiments in the song “What do you do with the mad that you feel” are needed more than ever. The song wouldn’t be out of place in the current protests by youth against gun violence. Or perhaps when contemplate the venom that comes through social media, which is often anything but sociable. In his inimitably disarming manner, Mr. Rogers likely would have much to say about all of that.

Ah, manner of speaking has so much to do with love-one-another creeds within faith groups. Share the talk, of course, including about subjects that really matter. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and, again, the “practicing ordained” could do with his know-how in uniting people – of all generations – so nobody is left out. Ah, Mr. Rogers would now be 90, and if he were still with us, he would help the world better understand the hard truths and needs of old age.

But let everyone use a Mr. Roger postage stamp — which should be a Forever and forever stamp, to get us writing letters again — via real mail, mail that vitally connects. My mother-in-law and I became best friends through our weekly letter exchanges.

Mr. Rogers would most surely applaud the essential good neighbors in multiple dwelling places, the so-called “help.” And he’d stress how mostly they live in the outer boroughs and the transit is never that easy, but the great majority made it to work despite hardships brought on by the recent nor’easters. They know how essential their presence can be and not only for those who are ill, homebound or alone. Mr. Rogers would gently remind people dependent on them not to take that for granted or let them take unnecessary risks.

And yes, there are thousands of essential workers who so thankfully made it through the storms, but don’t qualify as neighbors we’re now discussing. And surely more must be said about that. And more will be said about Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, in this column and elsewhere. But for now, Mr. Roger’s programs are available on CDs, or are they DVDs? Whichever it is, the program and its themes need a great revival — and don’t forget the postage stamp and real mail.

All Easter and Passover blessings are wished you, dear readers, and as Rabbi Harvey Tattelbaum was wont to say in homilies that ran in this paper, “Be a blessing. That is why we are here.” It can be done if enough of us try.


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