Children pounded drums, vendors sold Israeli jewelry, and politicians and plain folk dialed the phones as the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ held its annual Super Sunday fund-raising phonathon in two bustling locations.
With an emphasis on increasing both its annual revenues and its donor base, the federation’s day of grassroots fund-raising brought in pledges of $1,643,083 from 1,981 contributors.
This year, 800 volunteer callers gathered on the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany and the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains to take part in the 11-hour phonathon. Community members who flocked to the campuses to lend a hand ranged in age from schoolchildren to seniors (with the younger set serving as card runners and snack distributors).
The federation supports local Jewish life and projects in Israel and other countries.
For the federation’s new CEO/executive vice president, Dov Ben-Shimon, “Super Sunday is one of the most vibrant aspects of building Jewish community life.”
Ben-Shimon stopped at the Scotch Plains campus before heading to Whippany, where he told NJ Jewish News, “I’ve seen the vibrancy and enthusiasm of our volunteers at both venues, and I am grateful for the participation of our lay and professional leadership.”
He said that while the federation “faces challenges on a daily basis, Super Sunday is a very public test of our community and its willingness to stand up for what we believe in. The goal is donors, not just dollars. It is not just about raising dollars. It is about raising Jews.”
One year ago, some 1,000 volunteers raised a total of $2.3 million for the United Jewish Appeal Campaign.
“For Super Sunday, we did not have a specific financial goal but are focusing on broadening our supporter base for the entire year,” said Shelley Labiner, the federation’s chief marketing officer. She also anticipated the results of “Terrific Tuesday,” scheduled for Dec. 9, when callers attempt to contact people who were not reached at home on Super Sunday; the overall expected outcome, she said, is that “we will have raised more than $1.6 million from over 2,000 people.”
‘Funds and fun’
The day went far beyond callers soliciting contributions. On both campuses, PJ Library sponsored drum circles. Counselors from JCC MetroWest’s Camp Deeny Riback led children in a game called Ga-Ga — an Israeli variation of dodgeball. In an arts and crafts session, children created Hanukka menoras by lining up pretzel stick “candles” stuck into bananas and topped with icing “flames.” Youngsters and their families took part in social action opportunities through MitzvahMania.
Vendors sold T-shirts, Judaica, jewelry, and craft items. To mark the upcoming holiday, a Hanukka menora made of donated cans of food was constructed. And people who sought brief moments of fame could stand in front of a blue screen to be photographed for mock front pages of NJ Jewish News.
Ben-Shimon’s predecessor, Max Kleinman, seemed relaxed in his new role as a rank-and-file volunteer. “This is my community and the needs the federation covers are global and local,” he said.
“Today is always a great community day,” said federation president Leslie Dannin Rosenthal. “We see everybody geography-wise and age-wise. Today is about raising funds and raising fun. We are aiming not only at increasing our funds but increasing our donor base.”
UJA Campaign director Jeffrey Korbman agreed. “My focus is to expand our donor base and meet our annual goal of 12,000 contributors,” he said. “The way we expand the donor base is by calling new people. We call people who have been touched by the work we do, and ask them to pay it forward to support the community where they live and from which they benefit.”
“The needs for funding are continually growing all around us here, in Israel, and around the world,” said general campaign chair Maxine Murnick. “The more people who know about our efforts and needs can only help increase the likelihood of their involvement and support.”
At the age of 91, Bob Max of Summit, a former president of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey, has been involved with Super Sundays for 30 years in a row. “My conscience said, ‘This is the place where you have to be,’ and I would hope to be able to do what I am doing now for the rest of my days to raise funds that are so vastly needed for our social services.”
But for Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ Dist. 10), coming to Super Sunday was a first-time experience. “I am here to help the federation gain the resources to continue the great work they have done,” he told NJJN. “It is a real delight to see the efforts the federation has made.”
Before beginning her shift at the phone bank, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno told NJJN, “We wanted to come here like many of my colleagues in public service to support everything the federation is doing.”
Off to one side of the bustling JCC of Central NJ gym on the Wilf campus, 90-year-old George Forest wrote letters to thank Israeli soldiers for their service. He said he was writing to them that as a World War II veteran, he knows how much courage it can take to be in action. “It’s a privilege to be able to do this,” the Linden resident said. “I’ve been helping out at Super Sunday for about 10 years.”
Steve Weisbrot of Scotch Plains — Super Sunday cochair with Ken Rotter of Westfield, Ron Silbermann of Randolph, and Jessica and Aaron Wolff of Denville — said, “We had great support from all the federation agencies. We’d like more support from the general population, but this is what our goal was — to invigorate the community and especially to have more young members get involved.”