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UJC Super Sunday to feature Mitzva Day, music, and more
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UJC Super Sunday to feature Mitzva Day, music, and more

Mama Doni Band’s ‘cool’ music will entertain the kids

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Hundreds of volunteers — like these at last year’s MetroWest Super Sunday — will help raise funds at this year’s Dec. 12 phonathon.
Hundreds of volunteers — like these at last year’s MetroWest Super Sunday — will help raise funds at this year’s Dec. 12 phonathon.

Sure, phone banks are the core of Super Sunday, the largest single fund-raising day for United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. The 2011 UJA annual campaign goal is $21 million, and pledges made on Super Sunday generally mark about 10 percent of the total campaign. And hundreds of volunteers will call Jews across the area for their annual gifts. But every year a wealth of activities is offered on site at the Aidekman campus in Whippany to keep children happy while their parents volunteer.

This year, the focus of the Dec. 12 event is also on the larger message of the day — doing mitzvot.

In a community first, CareLink, a partnership of UJC, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, and JCC MetroWest, will sponsor a mitzva day for families with children ages three-11 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Mitzva projects will include sorting and wrapping toiletries for the homeless, creating placemats for the Morristown Soup Kitchen, participating in a food drive for the Interfaith Food Pantry serving Morris County and the Bobrow Family Kosher Food Pantry at Oheb Shalom Congregation, fashioning paper bouquets for residents at Lester Senior Housing Community, and stuffing teddy bears for the Rachel Coalition.

“Super Sunday is not just a phonathon; it brings the community together,” said Dana Lichtenberg, who is coordinating the fair. “The mitzva fair is in keeping with the spirit of the day — giving back and educating people about the larger MetroWest community.”

To educate participants about the many different agencies providing services, every activity is being sponsored by one agency to benefit another. So, for example, the three area day schools are sponsoring the paper flower craft, and the resulting bouquets will benefit residents at the Lester community, part of the Jewish Community Housing Corporation of MetroWest. The mitzva fair will also include an interactive story time with PJ Library; blood, Gift of Life bone marrow registry, and canned food drives; a tzedaka can drop and children’s book drive will provide additional avenues for Jews in MetroWest to help one another.

‘Cool musicians’

Another Super Sunday first this year will a performance by the Mama Doni Band.

The high-energy family-oriented band will present a free family concert at 3 p.m.

The band, headed by Montclair mother of two Doni Zasloff Thomas, exploded onto the children’s Jewish music scene three years ago. The band’s fourth CD, Shabbat Shaboom, which will be released in February, offers different facets of Shabbat, from celebratory dancing to the quiet hush of the blessings. While it still includes the band’s hallmark silly lyrics and zaniness, the new CD offers a richer musicality than previous works. Thomas credits that quality, in part, to band guitarist Eric Lindberg, who joined in February, and drummer and percussionist Cliff Ramsay, who became a band member the previous summer. The band also includes Alexander Tyshkov on bass.

Lindberg, a bluegrass musician, grew up in South Orange attending Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel. He and Ramsay both earned bachelor’s degrees at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.

“I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with really cool musicians,” said Thomas in a phone interview. But she also pointed to the natural evolution of the band. She started out writing songs for a group of preschoolers at the Child’s Way Jewish Montessori School at B’nai Shalom in West Orange.

“I really thought this was just some goofy thing I was doing in my kitchen for my own two kids and the 10 kids in my class,” she said. But in 2008, she submitted her first CD, I Love Herring, to the International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam, after having worked only with a producer, but no band, on the CD. “When the festival selected us, I realized I had to get a band together,” Thomas said. Her website launched the day she flew to Amsterdam for the competition, where the band won the Simcha Award.

They embarked on their first national tour in 2009, and most recently appeared on Fox News and NBC TV for segments on Hanukka this year.

“It’s been a huge, spiritual, wonderful, exciting journey,” she said. Now, she sees the Mama Doni Band as her life’s work, and hopes to expand the brand to cookbooks, workshops, even a television show. “I just want to grow and share this celebration of Jewish culture in every medium I can,” she said.

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