Sara Klein Wagner
The late Fred Rogers – the Mr. Rogers of the long-running children’s TV show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood – has not lost his popularity or relevance.
Mr. Rogers debuted in 1968 singing his way into the hearts of children and reminding his audience every day how happy he was to see them again.
In our polarized world it is understandable that we also crave the warm community of neighbors. People of all ages find familiar welcoming neighbors at The J just like children wanted to come back to Mr Rogers neighborhood day after day to experience the World of Make Believe, with Lady Aberlin and King Friday XIII.
So whenever I take guests on a tour of The J, I always point out one area in particular that serves as a unique “neighborhood.” I show off the senior adult lounge sandwiched between our early learning classrooms and directly across from the offices of our Early Learning Center (ELC) director and assistant director.
This special neighborhood has been led by two passionate and caring leaders, Diane Sadle, senior adult director, and Norma Cahen, director of early learning. As both Diane and Norma approach retirement this month, I can’t help but point out that we have had our own versions of Mr. Rogers (or, in this case, Mrs. Rogers) right here on Dutchmans Lane.
Mr. Rogers debuted over 50 years ago, capturing the attention of children for generations. He understood that young people need and deserve attention. Like Mr. Rogers, Diane and Norma have spent vibrant careers and countless moments culminating at The J, sharing gentleness, kindness and empathy.
Anyone who has spent five minutes in the ELC-Senior adult neighborhood has observed Diane and Norma engaging the children and seniors, offering them respect and one-on-one attention.
Diane started her work at the then-Jewish Community Center 27 years ago, working part-time as a nutritionist for the senior lunch program. Today, she is responsible for planning, gathering seniors together and delivering over 250,000 meals.
Norma came out of retirement five years ago to lead the ELC. She took it to a new level of excellence while infusing her wisdom and warmth along the way.
Norma has written emails each week to ELC families. This excerpt from her most recent message shows why every day is a beautiful day in our J neighborhood:
“As we put into motion the final frenzied buying of gifts for family and friends for Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza and Festivus (!),” she wrote, “remember what Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said, “For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.”
Diane and Norma will be succeeded by well-qualified professionals, each of whom will move their departments forward. Still, the flames that these two women lit during their years at The J will continue to light the way, and for that, we are grateful to them.
Sara Klein Wagner is the president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville.