1,000 volunteers gear up for Super Sunday phonathon

Holding an Ethiopian baby in his arms at an emigre absorption center in Jerusalem, Daniel Frankenstein felt the impact of something his father had told him for years — that the JFC's annual campaign helps Jews in need.

"I remember thinking that we helped make that possible," said Frankenstein, 14, who was in Israel last year with his family to celebrate his bar mitzvah.

This weekend, along with his brother, parents, grandmother and 1,000 others, Frankenstein will spend Nov. 19 volunteering at Super Sunday, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's 16th annual phonathon.

The event will be dedicated to the memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and to peace, JCF officials reported.

Last year's Super Sunday, the largest one-day Jewish fund-raising event in the Bay Area, raised $2.2 million.

To be held simultaneously in San Francisco and Palo Alto, Sunday's effort will launch the JCF's 1996 annual campaign. The money raised by asking 15,000 fellow Jews for campaign contributions is expected to become part of more than $18 million the JCF will allocate to 60 agencies here and abroad.

In addition to helping resettle immigrants locally and in Israel, Super Sunday dollars provide for a variety of Jews in need — from elderly who require housing and medical care, to impoverished families struggling to survive, to troubled teens in need of counseling.

To Frankenstein and his 12-year-old brother Toby, Super Sunday is nothing new. In fact, it's an event they first attended before they could walk.

"Daniel was 10 months old at his first Super Sunday. At the time, I was chair of the annual campaign, so I brought him along," said George Frankenstein, Daniel and Toby's father. "That was the beginning. Now, working together on Super Sunday is an old family tradition."

For years, the boys have served as "runners" on Super Sunday, assisting adult volunteers by collecting pledge cards and keeping callers well-supplied with Jelly Bellies and M&Ms. Last year, Daniel said, he finally started making calls.

Many other families have similar stories.

Like the Frankenstein brothers, 11-year-old Benjamin and 8-year-old Jason Friend learned about the value of giving through their parents' example. Their father, Don, is a past campaign chair, and their mother, Janie, has been involved in the JCF for a number of years.

"Simply talking about the importance of philanthropy is not enough. It's when our children see us rolling up our sleeves and working to raise money that they know our hearts are really in what we say," said Janie Friend.

When asked if he minded giving up a free day to work on Super Sunday, Benjamin Friend maintained that not "even a football game on TV" could stop him from coming.

"It feels so good to be able to help out that it doesn't really matter what else is going on," noted Jason.

According to Super Sunday chair Karyn DiGiorgio, help is something the Jewish community is going to need in large doses this year. "Federal funding to social services is going to be reduced, the local economic climate hasn't improved, and JCF-funded agencies desperately require all the help they can get from us."

DiGiorgio, who moved to the Bay Area from New Jersey five years ago, said that as a newcomer, volunteering on Super Sunday helped her connect to the Jewish community.

That connection is important, too, to former Super Sunday chair Susan Lowenberg, for whom the event has long been a family affair.

The initial push to become involved came from her father, Jewish community leader and former campaign chair and JCF president William Lowenberg.

"Tzedakah has been a part of my family for as long as I can remember," Bill Lowenberg said. "My parents, my grandparents, they always kept a pushke [charity box] in the house."

Susan Lowenberg, now in her 30s, said that her father started taking her to Super Sunday when she was in high school. "First, I just came to help out. But five years ago I got so involved I became the youngest person to serve as chair, which was a real groundbreaking experience."

More than "just people on the phone, Super Sunday really is a day for the community to come together," she added. "It's a time when everyone, no matter how much they can afford to give, has the chance to stand up and be counted."