Congregation B'nai Israel

2710 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604 | (203) 336-1858 | |

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor

by Ira Wise, September 2018/Elul-Tishri 5778/5779

At the end of July, I went to see the new documentary about Fred Rogers. You may remember him from the PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood which aired from 1968 – 2001. He remains one of my greatest educational heroes. I have learned so much from him and tried to incorporate many of his ideas into my work and how we educate our children at B’nai Israel.[1] Mr. Rogers asked us to be his neighbor because neighbors are more than people living in proximity. They are people who interact with and look out for one another.

Although he had retired and was fighting a terminal illness, Fred Rogers returned to television, just for a few minutes, to help us begin to wrap our arms around the events of September 11, 2001. Many of us were grateful to hear his voice at that traumatic moment. A portion of his public service announcement is shown at the end of the documentary. This quote stuck with me:

“I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe and to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods.”

He articulated one of the core principles that is part of everything we do in the Education Center. Some our students finish their time in our school with more or less knowledge than others. Some will have more or fewer friends than others. Some will feel more or less connection with their Jewish identity than others. Much of that depends on what they bring with them and how open they are to those things. Every one of them – every one of us – is different.

At our core, though, is the idea that every one of our children feel safe, protected, welcome and loved at B’nai Israel. And that their parents feel secure in the knowledge that their children are indeed safe.

That explains why, when a parent calls or sends a note that they are picking their child up early from class, we insist that they come inside and then we go get their child. We often only have Bethanne in the office during class time. If she were to respond to a phone call and bring a student down to wait for their ride, and then she were to get another call for another student, how could we protect the first child? So thank you for understanding and coming inside.

That explains why we ask so many questions in our enrollment materials. We want to know as much as we can about your children so we can respond to them as individuals. And if your child has some unique learning needs, we want to make sure we are acting in concert with you and with their other teachers and any other professionals in their lives.

And finally, that explains why we make the effort to bring your family together with other families in your child’s grade. When you begin to think of one another as neighbors, and not just as people whose children participate in the same activities, we change the world for our children. We show them that their synagogue is an extension of their home, filled with neighbors who generally care about them and their well-being. And when something frightens or worries us, we can rely on one another to help us through it.


Ira J. Wise, D.J.R.E.
Director of Education

[1] Please visit Ira’s blog at to read more about Mr. Rogers.