A love letter to Squirrel Hill

I loved Pittsburgh from the moment I stepped out of my parents’ mini-van for a tour of Pitt 13 years ago. The sun shone bright and high in the sky, and the Cathedral of Learning (still covered in soot back then), reached up to it as if in prayer. It felt like home already, though I’d only just arrived.

When I graduated four years later, the decision to stay was easy. By then I’d learned how precious those few sunny days were, how inadequate and frustrating the public transit was, how the neighborhoods were divided—segregated, essentially—by race. I stayed because, despite the negatives, despite the downsides, it still felt like home. I was young and thought, too, that maybe I could make things better. Not just in Pittsburgh, but the world.

I’ve never lived in Squirrel Hill, but I did and still do spend a lot of time there. As a student I spent countless Friday nights at the now-closed Barnes & Noble, spending what little money I had on books and more books. I wrote endless pages of terrible novels at the 61C Cafe, smoking clove cigarettes on the patio and watching the bright sunflowers nod in the breeze. And on late nights, studying or just escaping from the pain of a bad breakup or another rejection, I sat with my friends in Eat ‘n’ Park, drinking stale coffee and eating pie that tasted like cardboard, but the taste wasn’t the point anyway.

My favorite tea shop is in Squirrel Hill (Margaret’s), my favorite diner (Pamela’s—specifically the Squirrel Hill one), the best gaming store (Games Unlimited). I always find something delightful at The Exchange (the Star Wars soundtrack on 8 track, for example). My friends live there, and when out-of-town friends visit we meet up at 61C or Common Place. I spent two and a half years at Chatham, heading to the Squirrel Cage with friends after class for a stiff drink and literary dreaming.

In my boring adult life, I spend one Sunday a month in Squill (as we affectionately call it) pretending to be an X-Man with my nerd friends. We usually go out for a post-gaming dinner at Cafe 33, which is arguably the best Asian restaurant in the whole damn city. The Barnes & Noble is gone, but we have two indies in its place: Classic Lines and Amazing Books. 61C is still one of my go-to writer hangouts, especially in summer. I don’t visit Eat ‘n’ Park as much, but it’s tradition to kick off NaNoWriMo there at midnight on November 1 every year, and I plan to be there tonight.

D.J. and I often head to Pamela’s for a weekend brunch after a run. When we miss the North Side’s Friday farmer’s market, we stop by the Squirrel Hill market on Sunday for our local produce. I go out of my way to use the Post Office there, because the clerks are always smiling.

In short, I love Squirrel Hill.

On Saturday, a racist Nazi murderer walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue and massacred 11 people gathered for worship and community. The signs were there—after all, we elected a blatantly racist president who called literal Nazis “some fine people,” and just last year another racist Nazi spread anti-Semitic flyers all over the neighborhood.

My heart is broken, and it cracks anew every time I open the news or social media and see the world over talking about what happened here. I want the world to know and love the Squirrel Hill I know. The multicultural neighborhood full of love and such a vibrant community. I didn’t directly know anyone involved in the shooting. But I know people who do. They are my friends, they are my neighbors. They are my community. Every act of horrific mass violence like this cuts me to the quick, but this one hurts more because Pittsburgh is my home.

I’m a white woman. I’m almost always “safe.” And if I feel as if the world is stuttering to a stand still a thousand times a day, I cannot imagine the pain and grief my Jewish friends and the local and global Jewish community is going through. And what’s more, this was not the only shooting this weekend. This was not the only recent Pittsburgh tragedy. This the way things are, but this is not the way things have to be. It starts with me. It starts with you.

Together, we are stronger than hate. Love alone is not enough. We must stand whenever and wherever injustice strikes in this city we call home, whether against our Jewish neighbors, our Black neighbors, our immigrant neighbors, our refugee neighbors.

Stand for Antwon Rose.

Stand for Irving Younger.

Stand for Melvin Wax.

Stand for Bernice and Sylvan Simon.

Stand for Jerry Rabinowitz.

Stand for Joyce Feinberg.

Stand for Richard Gottfried.

Stand for Daniel Stein.

Stand for Cecil and David Rosenthal.

Stand.

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