A legion of volunteers rakes in $1.8 million on Super Sunday

For Russian emigre Grigory Kravets, Super Sunday is serious business.

"I come here not only to work for a few hours, but from morning until night," the bearded, beret-wearing Kravets said. "I think every day about my debt to America."

He also thinks about his 22-year-old daughter, who constantly reminds her dad of the importance of Jewish communal involvement.

"She wants me to become an American right away," the 64-year-old said, smiling.

On Sunday, Kravets joined a legion of volunteers — seniors, teens, rabbis, moms with babes in arms — at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's annual phonathon.

By day's end, an estimated 1,000 volunteers set up at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco and the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto had called 10,000 past and prospective donors. About 7,000 of them chipped in to the tune of more than $1.8 million.

The JCF's goal for Campaign 2000, which will fund a range of Jewish programs and institutions in the Bay Area, Israel and elsewhere, is $21.65 million.

Super Sunday's Web site, which for the first time included a continual feed of live photos from the event, attracted 22 donors for a total of $3,000.

One such donor, a New Yorker who chanced upon www.supersunday.org, was inspired to make a pledge. Another Web donor, a Bay Area resident vacationing in Israel, logged on and made a contribution from the Jewish state.

"We are thrilled with the results," said Barbara Farber, a Tiburon resident who co-chairs the fund-raising campaign with husband Jeff. "The weather was so beautiful that we anticipated many people would not be home. But they were, and they gave generously."

Some federation officials had been concerned that the burgeoning economy might lead donors to assume less need among the people and institutions funded by the JCF.

That didn't seem to be the case.

"People who are home have either increased or maintained their pledge from last year," said caller Evan Goodman, senior rabbi of San Francisco's Congregation Beth Israel-Judea. "I haven't needed to do much convincing."

Volunteer George Frankenstein, chairman of the JCF'S business and professionals division, noted that the number of stock contributions has risen with the market. Donors transfer appreciated stocks as charitable contributions and, in turn, do not have to pay capital-gains taxes for cashing in their stocks.

In San Francisco, the action took place in a large, bustling room filled with balloons, candy-festooned tables and enough chatter to reach the sun-drenched skylights. Most callers worked two-hour shifts.

Except for Kravets, of course, who made it an all-day affair.

Calling fellow emigres, he gets a whole spectrum of responses, he said, from people expressing gratitude for his call to people telling him about their medical problems.

"Usually in the end," he said, "they give donations."

Kravets and others agreed that calling donors takes on enhanced meaning when done among fellow volunteers.

This year, those volunteers included four San Francisco supervisors: Barbara Kaufman, Mark Leno, Gavin Newsom and Leslie Katz (who is unrelated to this reporter). The four of them showed up to make calls or show their support for the cause.

"The calls could be made by professionals or volunteers in any setting," Goodman said. "By being here together, there's a unified sense of purpose. A lot of time in the Jewish community, we're lacking a sense of unity."

Neil Tandowsky, co-chair of the North Peninsula campaign, also found himself inspired by the cohesiveness of the event.

"There's a lot of energy here."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.