A tough economy formed the backdrop of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s Super Sunday fund-raiser, with some potential givers offering only regrets but many others saying they were digging deeper in the face of hard times.
That generous spirit was apparent among the steady flow of people volunteering to make calls at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains, and the numbers began adding up. Almost 430 volunteers turned up.
The Dec. 6 event drew close to $440,000 in pledges for the federation’s 2009-10 campaign, which supports local Jewish institutions and programs as well as projects in Israel and Jewish communities around the world. With three days of Super Week and post-Super Sunday mailings, organizers are optimistic about reaching the overall goal of $500,000.
“I think it’s going really well,” said event cochair Shari Bloomberg halfway through the day.
By early afternoon, when co-vice chair Ellen Zimmerman had her daughter Alison, 11, and her friend, Hannah Margolis, 10, stuck up new numbers on the tally board, they were 9,000 gifts ahead compared with the same time at last year’s Super Sunday.
Callers — most clad in the Super Sunday T-shirts donated by Kenilworth businessman Victor Herman — said a number of people responded to their appeal for an increase in their gifts. In their fund-raising appeals, callers cited stark statistics — a 50 percent rise in people seeking food aid and counseling from federation beneficiary agencies; 50 frail seniors on the waiting list for home health care; and, in Israel, the 30 percent of children who are living below the poverty level.
Two of the callers, Conrad Nadell and Michael Simon, suggested that their fellow volunteer callers reach out to touch a friend. To the organizers’ delight, that approach elicited an immediate windfall: $500 from a first-time donor.
Some of the volunteers were first-timers too, like Peggy Levy, there with her husband, son, and a friend. The family moved to Elizabeth from Florida in August. “It’s just the right thing to do,” she said about helping out.
Susan Lemerman, the executive administrator at Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, has helped out at Super Sunday often before, but this time it had an extra significance. “It’s my husband’s birthday, and we like the idea of giving — instead of just receiving — on that day,” she said.
Organizers got a high-tech boost from a new information technology partnership between the Central federation and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, the federation serving Essex and Morris counties. Three experts from MetroWest’s IT department were on the spot, resolving any hitches that arose in a system that was handling as many as 40 calls simultaneously.
Levy, Bloomberg, and their committee members had reached out to both regular supporters and those new to federation. There were collections of toys and books, a food drive, clown training and crafts for children, cooking, and Mad Science activities. They also organized activities about the federation’s work.
The family scavenger hunt — with clues about federation programs — turned the usually low-key early afternoon into a buzz of activity, as groups dashed from room to room armed with their rhyming clues, all composed by committee member Stacie Friedman.
The first poem began “Welcome families, one and all” — and that set the tone for what came after. Friedman laughed as she watched kids decorating tzedaka boxes at the starting point, and then puzzling over their clue poems, before filling in the last word and charging to the next activity suggested in verse. “I began trying to write the rhymes one night, and they just started flowing,” she said.
All day long, people stuck green paper leaves on a federation “tree,” listing what federation means to them. Leslie Aiello of Hillside highlighted campus Hillels and other activities that support Jewish identity. Her daughter, Devora, named the kosher meals-on-wheels service that brings food to homebound seniors.
Others cited federation’s “support for those in need worldwide,” “giving youth opportunities to go to Israel,” camp, youth groups, the elderly, and — as one leaf said simply, “Jews.”