Behind the Scenes with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
(This post, by JCC Tapestry Committee member Ronna Bromberg Pachefsky, is reprinted from the JCC Winter Journal)
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Those three words bring to mind an idyllic place where kindness — in addition to King Friday— is King, and goodness and acceptance—in addition to Queen Sara— is queen.
I grew up in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, literally and figuratively. I was raised in Squirrel Hill a mile from the Rogers’ house. We met Lady Aberlin at a restaurant. That was a highlight of my childhood. We saw Handyman Joe Negri’s combo playing at a classmate’s Bar Mitzvah. We saw Mr. Rogers at the airport and on the street.
During college, I had an internship at WQED, the PBS station in Pittsburgh and the home of Family Communications, Inc: otherwise known as the Neighborhood. I was 20 and on the shy side. Needing to find telecom, the hub of all things Xerox, I gathered my nerve to ask which way to turn after I got off the elevator. The kind person told me to go to King Friday’s Castle and make a left. I remember saying thank you, but in my head, I remember thinking “omigod, omigod, omigod, KING FRIDAY’S CASTLE! “
After I graduated, I spent four years working on various projects at WQED. Truthfully, I always tried to find an excuse to go the Neighborhood offices. Whether needing information from them, or finding information for the director. Hearing him say, “sure Ronna, you can come in the booth during taping,” or running into Fred in the elevator during a particularly challenging day and hearing, “Hello Ronna. How are you today?” I can honestly say it was one of the best parts of my usually wonderful and crazy job. The staff was the embodiment of the culture of the Neighborhood we all know from the show. Kind. Lovely. Interesting. Accepting. And all associated meanings of those words.
I did have the opportunity to edit a project produced by FCI. One morning I found a bunch of daffodils on my console. Every time I see daffodils, I am reminded of the project and the special people involved. Also? The smell of microwaved popcorn. Fred enjoyed his microwaved popcorn.
To this day, every time something goes wrong in this world, I always think of “What would Fred say?” More than ever we as a country need his words and his wisdom to get us through dark times.
There is a concept in Judaism of the 36 Righteous People, or Lamedvavnik in Yiddish, humble righteous ones whose existence sustains the world. I truly believe that Fred Rogers could have been one of those 36. And if not Fred, then someone who saw the goodness in his heart and paid very close attention to his message.
It is that message that has stayed with me long past my time working at WQED and long past my time living in Pittsburgh. We watched the Neighborhood with our kids. I have tuned in or watched a particular piece on YouTube. We have the Neighborhood sweatshirts, mugs, and yes, the red trolley in two sizes. Most of all, I’m grateful that the message and the lessons live on through the staff of Fred Rogers Productions and their new programming. Because kindness never goes out of style.
I am proud to be a part of the Tapestry committee at the JCC and excited for us to have an opportunity to bring Hedda Sharapan to Milwaukee in February to share her own behindthe-scenes tales (for dates and details, flip the page). Hedda was involved with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from the very beginning and has spent 52 years sharing his message of kindness. I encourage you to attend this delightful and heartwarming program as we bring a piece of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood to our very own.
Purchase tickets for Hedda’s program on Wednesday, February 6 at 7pm