2 Super Sundays slated for Feb. 24: Amid world crisis, phonathons seek to ease hardships

Before Sept. 11, some volunteers considered dressing in costume at this year's Super Sunday, which falls two days before Purim.

But in light of the political and economic climate at home as well as the growing tensions in the Middle East, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's all-day phonathon Sunday will take on a more serious atmosphere.

Amid strife here and abroad, this year's annual fund-raiser will aid the JCF's 39 beneficiary agencies as well as projects in Israel and overseas, many of them impacted by the recession and terror attacks.

However, the sober world climate won't eliminate the fun for volunteers who converge Sunday at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco's Presidio and at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

"We basically get 1,000 Jews together," explained the event's chair, Howard Steiermann. "There's all this energy in the room, and shmoozing. It's one of the most fun days."

In Oakland, the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay will be holding a Super Sunday, too. That event — with 35 to 40 volunteers — also will mark a major fund-raising effort for that federation's annual campaign. According to Ami Nahshon, that federation's executive vice president, the Super Sunday goal of $525,000 represents a substantial part of the campaign goal of $3.7 million.

Campaign priorities in the East Bay include the security of the Jewish community here and the needs of families in Israel.

"But, while we focus on those issues, we don't like to forget about the safety net," said Joanne Neuman, campaign director for the East Bay federation. "It's not just about funding the crisis but also the everyday care we have here."

The other Jewish Bay Area umbrella fund-raising group, the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose, already held its Super Sunday on Jan. 26, when 128 volunteers raised $256,665 for Jewish education, senior programs and social services, both local and overseas.

In addition to rescue and relief efforts in Israel, and programs promoting pluralism and coexistence efforts there, funds will aid Jews in crisis in the former Soviet Union and in such countries as Cuba, Argentina, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Poland and Bosnia.

Of the three local federation phonathons, the S.F.-based JCF's Super Sunday is by far the largest, with volunteers converging at two sites to call 8,000 Jewish households in San Francisco, the North Bay and the Peninsula. In years past, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco has been one of the sites, but demolition and construction there have forced a move to the Presidio.

Last year, the JCF raised $2 million in just 12 hours on Super Sunday. There is no specific monetary goal this year, said Steiermann, but "we're encouraging the Jewish community, if you're home, to answer the phone and give generously."

In view of the troubled economy and terror attacks, the fund-raiser is even more critical, added Gail Zucker, JCF's director of planning and agency support. High unemployment, post-Sept. 11 stress, increased insurance rates and decreased state and federal aid has taken a toll on JCF beneficiaries.

"All these things put our agencies in a tough position," said Zucker, "so federation dollars are really becoming increasingly important."

It's not just the social service agencies that are experiencing a financial shortfall. Because of high unemployment rates and declining wages, local Jewish community centers "have seen a decrease in membership and attendance at their performing arts and cultural performances," said Zucker.

The sluggish economy has also increased the need for scholarship assistance for children in preschool or day care at the JCCs or in Jewish day schools, said Zucker, noting that it is increasing common that "one or more parents is out of a job or has taken a job with a lower salary."

Discussing the insurance crisis, she noted that Jewish agencies already have been hit with a 17 percent increase in health premiums for their staffs, and expect an additional 20 to 25 percent hike in the near future.

"Jewish Family and Children's Services and the Jewish Home have been especially faced with huge increases in health, dental and workers compensation — sometimes as much as 50 percent," she said.

While financial needs in the Bay Area are acute, overseas they are dire. The economic upheaval in Argentina has brought the issue of "helping those who want to leave and start life on solid ground" in Israel to the forefront, said Dawne Bear Novicoff, associate director of the JCF's Israel and overseas department.

The JCF's aid to Israel is focusing on aiding those who have been impacted by the terror attacks, as well as funding programs that "help Israeli Arabs feel invested in Israel," thereby contributing to the "safety of everyone," she added.

In addition to moving its San Francisco phone drive to the Presidio, Super Sunday will feature other new elements this year. For instance, along with the JCF's normal phone bank contingents — such as the Women's Division and the Young Adult Division — the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, established in January, will also staff a section of phones.

In the East Bay, Neuman said those who are volunteering, from the young leadership group to the board of trustees, will have "an opportunity to be together with different generations," to "touch base" and to get "involved in the community."

And the JCF has extended its outreach to the Bay Area's large Russian emigre population. Not only has the phone script been translated into Russian but the JCF has made an extra attempt to recruit Russian volunteers for the event.

The federation is still recruiting volunteers ages 16 or over. Those under 16 are welcome at the event with an RSVP, but they will not be staffing phones. However, they will have an opportunity to do other mitzvot, such as preparing gift boxes with Purim treats for the residents of Menorah Park, a San Francisco senior facility.

Beyond answering phones and noshing, volunteers will also get a chance to enjoy special activities. For instance, the Ask a Rabbi booth, which was highly successful last year, will return "with a great line-up of rabbis," according to Steiermann.

"We're trying to add a little bit more to Super Sunday because people are not just coming to make phone calls, but to make friends and see friends and have all sorts of things made available to them," he said.

"This is a great way for the community to come together," Zucker added. "We're raising money to address the global needs of our entire community. Every Jew is responsible for every other."