In a bustling journey that wound from training room to phone bank, volunteers raised a total of $1,802,637 on Super Sunday, the annual phonathon benefitting United Jewish Appeal campaign of MetroWest NJ.
Gathering Dec. 4 at the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany, over 800 people sat by hundreds of phones on long tables, dialing homes all over Morris, Essex, and Sussex counties and northern Union County. One part fund-raiser, one part community festival, the day-long event drew people from all over the area for a celebration of the federation and the kinds of Jewish programming it supports in the local community, Israel, and beyond.
Along the way, callers managed to surpass last year’s total of $1.7 million, toward an annual fund-raising goal of $21 million.
“Contributing to the community is important to us, and we need to communicate that to our children,” said Melissa Feldman of Livingston, who brought her elementary- and middle school-aged children, Molly and Jacob Nelson, both students at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston.
As Molly ran off, her older brother Jacob, 13, said, “I think Super Sunday is good because it helps everybody if they’re poor or going through a hard time.”
The volunteers started their day in training rooms, where event cochair Gregg Russo was running one of the training sessions. Stepping out for a moment as volunteers watched a brief video early in the day, he said, “Everyone is very enthusiastic and we’re trying to get them to the phone banks as quickly as possible.”
After training, volunteers wound their way through the campus atrium, past the vendors selling Israeli jam and olives, handcrafted earrings, talitot, and other Judaica and gift items, until they reached the phones. On the way, there were live feeds being broadcast, not only from locations on the Aidekman campus but also from the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains, which also held its Super Sunday on Dec. 4.
The phone room was noisy and energetic, but well organized. Children carried baskets of candy to volunteers to keep morale (and sugar levels) high, while runners rushed over to pick up the pledge cards.
For many of the volunteers, it was a day to give back and instill in children an understanding of tzedaka.
“We’ve been involved in this community for years, and the little ones should start young. We all know how important it is to give to this community,” said Maxine Murnick, who brought her son and daughter-in-law, Jay and Jodi Murnick of Short Hills, and their three children, Evan, four, Jacquelyn, two, and Taylor, 10 weeks.
Pearl Lebovic, a chaplain at local hospitals and the wife of Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic of Congregation Ahavath Zion in Maplewood, came for the third consecutive year. UJC supports the Joint Chaplaincy Committee of MetroWest.
“I’m very grateful for the work I’m able to do as a chaplain and for the fact that chaplaincy is available in general to people in our area. I feel I should give back,” she said.
For the first time, MetroWest’s Super Sunday was connected to the Super Sunday at the Central federation’s Wilf Community Campus site by live streaming webcams. As the two organizations move closer to an expected merger, they held coordinated Super Sunday drives and each broadcast in real time the other’s activities on the day.
Mark Glajchen, another cochair, called it “one of the most exciting things” in the room. “The live feed from our friends and colleagues was great because we could see what was going on with them and they with us,” he said.
Alison Weinstock of Randolph, who came for the first time this year with her husband and two children, loved the live feed. “It’s fabulous! More people are supporting the cause. It gives a wonderful sense of community,” she said.
Hannah Liben, 17, of Millburn, was making phone calls with helper and family friend Talia Silbermann, six, of Randolph. Liben “loves” phonathons because they offer another opportunity “to talk on the phone — for a cause.” She’s been coming since she was in eighth grade, she said, and pronounced the live feed “cool,” not only for presenting Central federation but to help her see what was going on around the building while she was at the phone bank making calls.
Talia particularly enjoyed raising the little Israeli flag that let “runners” know when pledge cards needed to be picked up. She has already decided to donate some of her toys and birthday presents to kids in need, something she took on by herself, although her father, Ron Silbermann, said, “I hope it’s because mom and dad are being good dugma’ot, good examples.”
In the midst of all the day’s activities, volunteer Lynn Leeb of Denville was presented with the Muriel Walter Volunteer of the Year Award.
The evening session reserved for teens and college student volunteers attracted more than 150 young people, the largest turnout ever, including 35 women from Montclair State University’s Sigma Delta Tau sorority.
Activities drew families and individuals to the campus throughout the day, including interactive music and story time with PJ Library; an Israel advocacy lunch and learn; and Rock and Wrap, where families gift-wrapped donated presents for needy children while being entertained by a deejay from Powerhouse Studios.
Randi Karol of Randolph was there with her two children, Ben, two, and baby Elyse for the storytime and music activity. Karol herself was chiefly interested in the activity booths staffed by agencies supported by the federation campaign, including Jewish Vocational Service and the Legow Family Israel Program Center.
“We are going to look into other things going on and try to get involved,” she said.
Jodi Murnick brought her children to the Rock and Wrap. “It’s a good way for them to learn about the day,” she said.
The third Super Sunday cochair, Mindy Kahn, was thrilled with the steady support from local politicians throughout the day, which, she said, “really invigorated the room” as they were announced.
Among the dignitaries who dropped by were Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Dist. 11), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5), State Sen. Thomas Kean (R-Dist. 21); State Assembly members Jon Bramnick (R-Dist. 21), Thomas P. Giblin (D-Dist. 34), Mila Jasey (D-Dist. 27), and John McKeon (D-Dist. 27); Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold; Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura; Mayors Nicole Hagner of Chatham, Rudy Fernandez of Livingston, Victor DeLuca of Maplewood, Sandra Haimoff of Milburn, James Sandham of Montville, and Joseph Tempesta of West Caldwell; Livingston Deputy Mayor Stephen Santola; and Livingston Council members Gary Schneiderman and Deborah E. Shapiro.