Sara’s View: Amid our quick-click, tech-driven world, let’s remember the power of human connection

By Sara Klein Wagner

Sara Klein Wagner
President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Louisville and the Trager Family JCC

Everything we want seems to be just a click away. You want something to eat? It’ll be here in minutes from anywhere in Louisville. Need a flight? You can travel across the world with the tap of a screen. Want to know anything at all? Mr. Google can answer all your questions. We can even check what our friends are doing on Instagram or Facebook at any hour. It’s all merely a touchscreen or a “hey Siri” away. Yes, it seems everything is easy if we’re attached to our phones. 

Yet, amid this world of instant gratification, I have begun to wonder about the implications for Jewish philanthropy. Giving online is just as easy as anything else. In fact, with a quick post, the generation of an email, or a text, we can reach hundreds or thousands of people in the blink of an eye, asking to support meaningful missions and causes from our Jewish lens. This is clearly impactful. But this has also renewed in me the need to refocus on the interpersonal connection that must accompany the new digital age including philanthropy. In short, this new age is making me lean into the power of “individuals.”   

Of course, the Jewish Federation, like many Jewish philanthropies, existed way before this recent technology. In fact, our collective giving to the Jewish Federation here in Louisville dates back more than 90 years. And for 33 of those 90 years, I have had the privilege of participating as a Jewish professional and giving to those annual campaigns (yes, I stared when I was ten).  

Throughout my professional life in Louisville, I have been awestruck by the generosity of our donors; you have contributed tens of millions of dollars to ensure we can fulfill every part of our mission. One of the first, Operation Exodus, happened just as I arrived back in Louisville. In the three decades since then, I have had a front row seat as we rescued Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. I have witnessed campaigns that provided resettlement and relief here and in Israel. I have been able to shake hands and hug our friends from Ukraine and Addis Ababa. Our collective efforts have helped teens go on the March of the Living and we have provided medical equipment to the Western Galilee hospital. Just this week, our Federation Board of Directors approved an $18,000 grant to help build a safe room for both Arab and Israeli children in a shared kindergarten I visited last month.  

Thirty-three years of experiencing change for the good. The efforts you, our donors, support are constant and cumulative, and my gratitude cannot be measured. I simply want to say thank you for letting me witness your neshamah and your love of the Jewish people and Jewish causes.  

And I do want to stress that this impact is cumulative. Three decades have flown by and, I am now seeing the teens I traveled with on the March of the Living raising children of their own and enabling them to live Jewish lives. Past young leaders now serve as our Board members and representatives of our executive team. In the full circle of impact, our own BBYO alum, Abigail Goldberg just returned from Israel as a named Merrin Fellow. She was empowered there to teach the next generation of leaders who will continue to strengthen Jewish life. L’Dor v’Dor, our Federation annual campaign continues to  invest in people.  

We are approaching the end of the 2024 Federation annual campaign Here for Good. We are well on our way to an impactful giving season, and I am sure you have seen emails and texts from us about it. As said at the outset, these innovative technologies that are pulling us together should not isolate us from the people we are helping. We must remember that the buttons we “click” to give or the email with an ask is connected to a person. We must lean into that.  

In fact, no amount of technology can take the place of our “people connection.” The past 33 years have proven that to me. Today, we still care for our most vulnerable, we still feed our elderly, we still provide Gather Grants and support platforms for Jewish meaning and engagement. There is nothing on a phone or computer that can substitute for the welcoming, inviting, and safe environments we provide for people to gather. We are also meeting the challenges of the moment – growing numbers of people who are isolated and lonely, rising antisemitism, and polarization all around us.  That can only be combatted with connections to people.  

Yes, our team of volunteer leaders and Jewish professionals understand the world we live in and the desire for quick answers and instant results, but our work of strengthening and caring for Jewish life in Louisville and across the globe is a lifetime endeavor rather than an instantaneous fix. It takes work and it takes you.  

We all need to walk alongside one another on our journey, and we all need to support our youngest and oldest community members and everyone in between. That happens when we connect with people. This year, take a few minutes to remember that the connections we really seek are not found in technology, they are found with other people, so join us as we charge into a stronger, more vibrant Jewish future. Please, consider supporting the 2024 Annual Campaign and the people connections this campaign will make possible.  


Sara Klein Wagner is President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Louisville and the Trager Family JCC 


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