In an all-day blitz of phone calls and festivities in three locations, volunteers and professionals from the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ raised $1.75 million in pledges for its 2016 UJA Campaign.
While final numbers were still to be calculated, that was already a welcome increase over last year’s Super Sunday phonathon, which raised $1.5 million.
The Nov. 22 fund-raiser took place simultaneously in Whippany, Scotch Plains, and — for the first time — in Israel, at events involving the federation’s Partnership2Gether communities of Ofakim/Merchavim, Kibbutz Erez, Rishon Letzion, and Arad.
Callers staffed the phones at the U.S. venues, seeking gifts and pledges from past givers and first-time donors while a stream of local politicians and dignitaries — including Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop — stopped by to offer their support and good wishes.
“It went wonderfully,” said Steve Weisbrot, who — with his wife, Stacie — cochaired the event with Ron and Shari Brandt, and Ron Silbermann. “We’re ecstatic — really excited, not just about the money raised but also about the number of young families who came.” In all, some 800 community members participated in Super Sunday.
The events followed weeks of pre-Super Sunday outreach, fueled by tongue-in-cheek slogans to encourage early pledges. “Our first-ever virtual Super Sunday campaign was really successful; we brought in $20,000,” said Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the federation’s Community Relations Committee and interim director of marketing and communications.
Whether working the phones, handling the paperwork, or entertaining the families who took part, volunteers said they had the Jewish community in mind. Seniors like Harry and Harriet Jacobs worked as a team in the call center at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany.
“We come with a group of seniors from the Cooperman JCC in West Orange,” Harriet said. “We’ve been doing it ever since we joined 16 years ago. We get so much from the JCC, it feels good to be doing what we can to give back to the Jewish community.”
Talia Ramer of Maplewood was among a group of high school students, mostly from the Golda Och Academy, who took part. “It’s fun!” she said.
Successful calls lit up a participant’s day, while answering machines and occasional rejections inspired determination. “You just can’t take it personally,” one caller said. Shana Slater, of Livingston, got a pledge for over $4,000. “But that was from my dad,” she admitted with a big smile.
Events here and in Israel were coordinated though a video linkup; while “technical difficulties” prevented audio contact, screens at the Aidekman campus and the Wilf campus in Scotch Plains offered glimpses of people gathered in Ofakim to support their NJ partners.
Doron Rubin, director of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s P2G program in Ofakim/Merchavim, welcomed the opportunity to take part in Super Sunday — known as “Yom Alef Alef” in Hebrew. “What has struck us most is the realization that all the good work being done — every action and institution that Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ operates and supports in New Jersey, in Israel, and around the world — is the result of the time and funds donated by individuals in the GMW community,” Rubin said.
The Ofakim event included no phone calls but family activities, speakers, and social action opportunities, designed to attract not only local residents, but also those from the other GMW partnership communities.
Amir Shacham, the federation’s associate executive vice president for global connections, briefed visitors at the Aidekman site on the situation in Israel. A poster at the entrance of the phonathon room listed recent victims of terror there — including the American teen Ezra Schwartz, killed the Thursday before in a Palestinian terror attack, and Hadar Bachris, a 21-year-old Israeli woman stabbed to death earlier in the day.
Over the course of the day, 17 legislators and political leaders came by to express their support. Fulop told the crowd in Whippany how his Jewish education — including years at Golda Och Academy in West Orange — and his service as a Marine in Iraq helped shape his ideals in building engagement and understanding between his city’s different communities. “At every step of the way, that Jewish foundation has been crucial,” he said.
Organizers, including Maxine Murnick of Short Hills, the general chair of the federation’s UJA Campaign, seemed satisfied with the event’s timing, a few weeks earlier than in recent years. Steve Weisbrot said he was gratified by the presence of many new volunteers who had never attended a Super Sunday before.
“Raising as much money as we can is important, but even more than that, we want to increase the donor base by bringing in new people, and we did that,” he said.