Working on two campuses but with one purpose, supporters of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ rallied to raise over $2,017,199 for the federation’s programs in New Jersey, Israel, and in Jewish communities around the world.
Hundreds of adults, teens, and children, along with a long list of political leaders, gathered in Scotch Plains and Whippany Dec. 8 for Super Sunday, the federation’s annual phonathon and celebration of all things Jewish.
“We’re very pleased. It was a great day — for the community and for the campaign,” said United Jewish Appeal campaign chair Leslie Dannin Rosenthal.
At the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and at the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., a total of around 900 volunteers worked the phones, ran entertainment, and took part in food and clothing drives and other activities designed to engage and energize attendees of all ages.
Among the day’s many events were programs to recognize volunteers, reward outstanding effort, and simply to provide fun. There was a “Family Shvitz Dance,” a PJ Library story session, Camp Fun, raffles, a yoga class, lots of music, and a lively “Rock and Wrap” with participants gift-wrapping toys and outerwear for local families in need to a backdrop of popular tunes spun by deejays.
“Super Sunday is a huge undertaking to put together,” said the federation’s chief marketing officer, Shelley Labiner, “but we have a large contingency of staff, lay leaders, and volunteers involved, and their support has been extraordinary.”
She was gratified by the record turnout of teens and college students who concluded the final three-hour session of the day — about 200 of them. They came from both the historic Central and MetroWest communities — separate federated regions before their merger in 2012 — many meeting each other for the first time. Labiner said, “They’re an amazingly energetic and robust group who were so excited to be actively participating in philanthropy.”
The young callers also included contingents from the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, the JCC of Central NJ, and the Diller and Iris Teen Tzedakah programs; students from Drew, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Montclair State universities; and the Greater MetroWest rishonim (young Israeli emissaries).
About two dozen dignitaries and elected officials (see list, page 9) came to the two sites to express their support. The day also included the official presentation of the Volunteer of the Year Award by federation president Lori Klinghoffer and Union Beach borough administrator Jennifer Maier. It was given collectively to the group of volunteers — around 500 people — who made repeated trips, sponsored by the federation, to help out at the Hurricane Sandy-devastated Jersey shore community. Maier read a proclamation from the borough in thanks for all the donations and volunteer efforts from Greater MetroWest.
Cochairs of the Whippany event, husband-and-wife team Jessica and Aaron Wolff of Denville, described theirs as a labor of love and a natural extension of their relationship with the federation. “Super Sunday is a day my whole family has been involved in for years, and we’re very passionate about it,” Jessica said. Her mother, Rita Gotfried, cochaired the fund-raiser in the past, and Jessica recalls participating every year since she was three years old. “It’s a great honor to help take responsibility for the day,” she said.
“People have been very receptive,” confirmed North Caldwell’s David Kohlberg, a board member of NJJN, who volunteered for the fourth year in a row to make calls. “It’s about raising awareness and supporting the Jewish community and also about helping to thank people for all they do,” he said.
“It’s a fun day, like a reunion,” said Morristown resident Sarah Bacharach, 15, who took to the phone bank with father Jason, mom Naomi, and brother Sam, 17, to help the annual cause. “It’s important to raise funds for federation, and it’s nice to see everyone here, including a lot of my old friends from Hebrew Academy,” the teen said of her Randolph-based alma mater.
Though having attended with his family for over seven years, teen Binyamin Weitz of West Orange, enjoyed the opportunity to make his very first calls on Sunday, cheered on by his father Ron and three-year-old sister Chani. Ron said, “Our son goes to Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, and our school receives the generosity of Jewish federation, so we’re excited to help out.”
David Lentz of Livingston found Sunday’s event to as be meaningful today as when he first began participating in the early 1980s. “It’s rewarding when you make a connection with someone,” he said. “Super Sunday is a great community day involving people from completely different walks of Jewish life, and it creates a lot of energy.”
“As parents, we try to set examples for the younger generation, and this is a great way to help the community,” said George Fiszer of Randolph, who participated with his wife, Lainie; son Justin, 16; and daughter Stacy, 13. “It’s tikun olam,” repairing the world, added Justin.
Ken Rotter of Westfield, who chaired the Scotch Plains event with his wife, Bethany Nadel, was breathing a sigh of relief at the end of the session. “You never know how the weather is going to affect turnout,” he said. But, he said, the day’s cold, wet weather “worked for us. This was great.”
In contrast to the more spread-out plans of previous years, with events scattered around the Wilf building, this time the callers shared the gym with vendors and other activities — like the blood drive, which even Rep. Leonard Lance took time off to support. The closer arrangement made for a lively, enthusiastic atmosphere that drew approval all around, even if it was a bit harder to hear folks on the phone.
As the total crossed the $500,000 mark just before 1 p.m., way ahead of last year’s timeline, there was a roar of applause. Though most callers said they were having a hard time finding people at home, those who did answer their phones at least matched last year’s gift. Marcy Lazar was jubilant after one of her donors upped her number above the $5,000 mark, qualifying her as a Lion of Judah. “It makes all the effort feel worthwhile,” Lazar declared.
For some of the youngsters — like 14-year-old buddies Hayley Friedman of Scotch Plains and Lauren Lattman of Berkeley Heights — Super Sunday is already a tradition. “We’ve been coming since we were little,” Hayley said. They were helping out in every way they could before heading over to Whippany.
“It just feels nice to be part of it, to know you’re helping,” Lauren said.
For others, the Dec. 8 event was a first. Long after everyone else had stopped making calls, Baback Panahbarhagh of Elizabeth was still dialing numbers. “I started late, so it’s only right I put in more time now,” he said. He came to the United States from Iran alone as a teenager in 1979, fleeing the revolution there. His parents weren’t able to join him until 1992. He was helped by family members and an Orthodox Jewish group, he said, and after living in other areas, moved to New Jersey a year ago.
Explaining his desire to join the fund-raising effort so soon after settling in the community, he cited the help he got along the way, adding, “We are blessed to be Jewish.”