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My View: Terrific neighbors are like our family

By Alex Lazarus-Klein

The first advice my father-in-law gave me when we were looking to buy a house was: Don’t just look at the house, also meet your potential neighbors. How right he was. Good neighbors can make all the difference.

When my wife and I were moving to Buffalo, we had exactly one day to look for houses. We started early in the morning and we went on searching all day long.

As luck would have it, the first house we looked at was the one we ended up buying. While we liked the house itself, one of the big differences between this house and the others is that we were able to meet the neighbors.

It was a warm day in May, and they purposely came out of their houses to shake our hands and introduce themselves. They seemed genuinely happy to see us, and the block itself seemed very friendly.

How right we were. Our neighbors have been there for us in so many ways, whether it is collecting our mail or watching the dog when we go away, or offering advice and assisting when we need help.

They were there when our dog got skunked in the middle of the night, and they were there whenever our car needed a jump.

They are kind, compassionate families on both sides of our house and a blessing to share the street with. They are like our family.

Being newbies to the Buffalo area, both my wife’s and my family are a long drive away. We need people we can count on. Often it is our neighbors who have filled that void.

More than that, the entire block has been a wonderful place to live. We ended up buying a house on a tiny cul-de-sac in Amherst with a total of about 30 houses. It is really representative of America: We have old and young, new American arrivals, and those whose families have lived here for many generations. We have all different colors and ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic levels.

I happen to be a rabbi, but I’m not the only clergy on the block, because a Methodist minister lives a few doors down. What a joy it is to walk down the street and to have a friendly relationship with everyone there.

That is what I love about living in the Buffalo area – how interconnected our lives really are.

I went to parochial school growing up, but now my wife and I send our kids to the local public school. We do so because we want them to get to know their neighbors, and to feel a deep connection to the broader area. This is how we learn to trust one another and feel safe, even with people who have so many different beliefs and ways of life.

The presidential election in November emphasized the divide in our country. It is neighborhoods like the ones we find in Western New York that bring us together. It is not by accident that Buffalo is called the City of Good Neighbors.

This is not something to be taken for granted. There is a reason that many of our religious traditions emphasize “loving your neighbor as yourself.” In doing so, you not only enhance the place you are living, but it helps enhance your life as well.

This is what I believe it means to be a Buffalonian. This is what I believe it means to be an American.

Alex Lazarus-Klein is the rabbi of Congregation Shir Shalom. He lives in Amherst with his wife and three children.
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