Start With Hello

In the days since the domestic terrorism attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue here in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill community, we have all been shaken. We have cried so many tears. We have felt darkness all around us.

And yet, for every piece of darkness, there has been one of light.

The elected officials of Pittsburgh who have been at every funeral offering comfort to those in mourning. The religious leaders who have spoken of love, compassion and togetherness at vigils. The Steelers sending 3 buses to a funeral, the Penguins honoring the police officers shot, those going to blood drives and attending community events designed to bring us all together. The way the Muslim community has raised over $150,000 to support the funeral costs of their Jewish brothers and sisters.

Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning To Walk In The Dark, talks about this principle. She writes about how half of our lives, both our physical and spiritual worlds, are in the darkness. We are awake during the day when it is light and yet we need the darkness of night to rest and reset for the day ahead. We are happy but sad things happen. She speaks of how our lives are not on a set track but instead are like sailboats, we do not know when a gust of wind is going to come and shift the course of our lives.

I have been thinking a lot about that the past few days. We have all been plunged into darkness but it’s the yin and yang that balances life. Light and dark.

Today, here at Hello Neighbor we’re launching Start With Hello in the hopes of bringing light to the darkness.

We’re asking everyone to do one intentional act of kindness for someone. Hold the elevator door, pay for coffee for the person behind you, give up your seat on a crowded bus at rush hour, ask “how are you” to someone you see in pain and be present in the moment when they answer. It can be anyone. A person close to you or a stranger. At work, at school, in your local coffee shop or at the police station you pass by every day on your commute.

You can do one act, or you can follow our lead and do 11 in honor of the 11 that lost their lives. In many Christian faiths people say “Rest In Peace.” In Judaism they say, “May their memory be a blessing.” May the memories of Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger and Joyce Fienberg be a blessing to all of us to stomp out hate and bring love, strength and understanding to our lives each and every day.

When hate strikes one community, it strikes us all. We either all break apart or we come together.

This week, Pittsburgh came together. We are one. We are one family. We are one community. They will not divide us for we are stronger than hate and we are stronger together. White, black, brown. Christian, Jewish, Muslim. City, suburban, rural.

We mourn because our hearts are big. We mourn because we love.

This week, I have never felt prouder to be from Squirrel Hill, or to be Jewish. I might be other things too, that’s the great thing about democracy and our country. I can baptize my sons in a church and go to the children’s service at a synagogue and eat an Iftar dinner during Ramadan. I can celebrate a Hindu baby naming ceremony and get henna with the bride and bridesmaids to celebrate a Sikh wedding.

I didn’t need convincing that Pittsburgh was a special place and that we were setting an example for the kindness and empathy that citizens of a community and city could have towards one another. I see that every day. Only now, the rest of the country does too.

All religious have a word for an act of charity towards another. In Hebrew it’s called Tzedakah. Muslims call it Sadaqah. In building Hello Neighbor over the last 18 months, I have seen the true kindness and love within people’s hearts that drive them to help others who are new in their communities. We talk about starting with the word hello and how that is the beginning of a friendship, of a moment, where both sides have begin to trust someone who looks different, who maybe prays different, who speaks a different language or who is from a different part of the world.

Today, we’re inviting all of you to do it too. Not through us, but on your own. You don’t need anyone’s permission to start with hello. To do a kind act. To be intentional about community.

If you want to share your stories on social media, we’d love to hear them. Can we start something beautiful together? Use #startwithhello to help us start a conversation about kindness towards others. Together we can create a movement that allows us start the healing process and creates a space for us to walk together through the dark and back towards the light.

Yours in solidarity,

Sloane Davidson
Founder and CEO
Hello Neighbor