Every once in a while we have the opportunity to take in a dose of quiet decency in the midst of a world of chaos. On the suggestion of many friends and family, we finally went to see the Fred Rogers documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”. You do not need to have been an avid Mr.Rogers Neighborhood viewer to understand this film. I would image that many of our generation remember having this show on in the background, as our children sat captivated in front of the TV. The documentary is focused on Rogers’ career and beliefs and makes no attempt to hide the impact of his faith and that faith’s impact on his personal life. Likewise, we learn about some of his own personal struggles and the rather strange reality of some anti-Rogers feelings and backlash.
What makes this film so timely, is the message, plain and simple, of kindness, compassion and mostly love. Yes, the focus is on sending a message of these values to children. However, it is easy to transfer those messages to children to that challenges that confront adults today. Indeed, as the film ends, in a post 9/11 piece, Mr Rogers reminds us all of the value of “tikkun olom”. Do not be surprised if you, as you watch, ask yourself “where are these people and these values today?”
There will be some who see in the film a sense of sentimentality. That is OK. In fact, given the craziness of the contemporary world and the challenges that confront us, a summer time respite to the movies that gives us a message of hope, kindness, compassion and love, is a message that we sorely need.
The sadness of the film, and I left the film with a sense of sadness, is that so much of Rogers’ message still goes unheard.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.