In its first-ever Super Sunday fund-raiser outside of its South River building, the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County brought the community together to celebrate Hanukka while helping others have a bright holiday season.
The Nov. 24 phonathon at Rutgers University’s Douglass College Center in New Brunswick had something for everyone, starting with calls in the morning by 137 volunteers that netted $399,739.
Federation officials said the total was a great start to a fund-raising season that will include a second effort on Jan. 12, a first for the federation.
“The numbers were consistent with those produced in the first four hours of Super Sunday calling in prior years,” said federation associate executive director Susan Antman, “but this was a day not only devoted to bringing in money, but also to show what a strong, vibrant community we are.”
The federation raises money for local Jewish programs as well as for programs in Israel and elsewhere overseas. Its reach and mission were demonstrated in many ways on Super Sunday, Antman said, from youngsters who raised $156 by making and selling rubber band bracelets during the event, to volunteers who bagged breakfast items for the food bank at Jewish Family & Vocational Service of Middlesex County, to children dancing to holiday music.
“Our goal for Super Sunday was twofold: to raise significant funds to support critical needs in our community, in Israel, and worldwide, and to bring people together in a meaningful way,” said Antman. “Judging by the hundreds who came, it was a success.”
“It was a great day for the federation and the community,” agreed federation president Seth Gross. “We are proud to be able to offer people of all ages the chance to be active philanthropists and to be involved in social action.”
At the holiday bazaar, shoppers made their way through tables of jewelry, home decorations, Judaica art, and kitchen items.
Volunteers who made calls soliciting pledges ranged in age from teens to seniors. Matt Schafer, 14, of East Brunswick proudly noted his calls brought in more than $1,000 for federation.
“I’m Jewish and we have to keep the Jewish community strong,” he said.
Rachael O’Gorman, 17, of Edison was calling as her way of giving back after federation helped send her to Jewish summer camp on a “campership” subsidy.
“I found the experience to be very helpful and I wanted to help raise money so that others could have the same experience,” she said.
Sol Heckelman, a senior citizen from East Brunswick, said he had been making volunteer calls for some 20 Super Sundays. “I’m lucky enough to be comfortable and this gives me a way to give back,” said Heckelman, a member of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick and a board member of JFVS. “It’s so rewarding I don’t know how people can’t do it. ”
Nine-year-old Miriam Bash of East Brunswick, who was helping bag donated breakfast items, said she was doing it “because it’s a nice thing to do and I like to help other people.”
Eric Wallenstein of Highland Park was busy making calls while his three-year-old daughter, Ariella, munched on goodies. Later she joined children marveling at Jonah the Juggler or dancing with drums, shaking maracas, or waving scarves provided by kids’ entertainer Matty Roxx. The children sang and danced to songs about eating latkes and the Hebrew alef-bet in an activity sponsored by the federation’s PJ Library, a program that provides free books and music to Jewish families with young children.
“It was very fun stuff,” said seven-year-old Adam Strub of Highland Park, who broke into a break-dance during the program. “It was very kid-generated.”
Wallenstein noted that he was representing three organizations supported by federation: Rutgers Hillel, Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison, and Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park.
“I think it’s critical to give back to the community as an active participant,” he said.