Fund-raising is fun-raising, say Super Sunday volunteers on $2.2 million effort

The Young Adults Division wore tie-dyed T-shirts and fluorescent peace signs around their necks. The Marin division had peacock feathers sticking out of their pledge cards. The North Peninsula division wore Hawaiian leis. And the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender division were bedecked in colorful hats and feather boas, showing off their “general fabulousness,” as LGBT board member Aaron Danzig put it.

Despite the costume flourishes, everyone was there for the same reason, soliciting donations for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, in the annual kickoff to its yearly campaign, Super Sunday.

Over 1,000 volunteers — state Assemblyman Mark Leno and city Supervisor Sophie Maxwell among them — worked two-hour shifts, sustained by a steady supply of M&Ms and Jelly Bellies, on Sunday, Nov. 21. The fund-raiser raked in a total of $2.2 million, falling $600,000 short of what Super Sunday netted last year. Remembering that it rained last year on Super Sunday, callers said the sunny weather was keeping people outside, away from their telephones.

This year’s phone-a-thon was a celebration of sorts in that it was the first one at the new Jewish Community Center in San Francisco.

“People are excited to be in this space,” said Rabbi Evan Goodman, spiritual leader of San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Israel-Judea. “This building was designed with the phone lines installed specifically for this.”

For Goodman, Super Sunday was a family affair. His wife worked the North Peninsula division, and his two sons served as runners, bringing the completed pledge cards over to the accountants.

Ilan Goodman, 11, had even volunteered a few hours the previous day, helping to set up the hall. With his neck hidden beneath at least 10 plastic leis, Goodman said he enjoyed the annual event.

“It beats sitting at home all day,” he said.

Those working the phones had only good things to say about the annual fundraiser.

Jaimie Simon of Oakland worked her first Super Sunday, sitting in the Young Adults Division.

“This makes fund-raising, fun-raising,” the 29-year-old said. “The energy and spirit here is so good that you’re really motivated to make your calls this way.”

For every first-timer though, there were many veterans. Jay Shaffer of San Rafael said that this was his 13th Super Sunday, and he is only 26.

One of the three YAD chairs, Shaffer was there not only to train volunteers, but to keep motivation high. Shaffer shared his strategy on turning a “no” into a “yes.”

When someone says they don’t want to give money because they are upset with Israel’s government — which happens frequently, he said — the caller should acknowledge those feelings and say “I feel the same way.”

Validating their opinion makes them more likely to pledge by the end of the call, Shaffer said.

Anya Elinson and Becca Weinstein of Greenbrae both looked uneasy when asked their ages by a reporter, since callers are supposed to be 16. But they agreed that their youth was an asset in that people had a harder time saying no to a young voice.

And Adam Geldman, an 82-year-old emigre from Moldova, worked the Russian division, as he has for the past 10 or so years.

“It’s my duty to help,” he said. “When I first came, I needed help.”

Outside of Kanbar Hall, in the JCC’s atrium, people shmoozed and noshed, and occasionally wandered over to the “Ask the Rabbi” area to pose any number of questions to the area’s spiritual leaders. Rabbi Gerald Raiskin, spiritual leader of Burlingame’s Peninsula Temple Sholom, said the most frequent question he got: “How are you?”

By late afternoon, Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, spiritual leader of Palo Alto’s Congregation Kol Emeth, had finished his shift on the telephone. He scanned the atrium, looking for colleagues and people he knew; it was his mother’s sixth yahrzeit, and he needed the 10 people required to make a quorum to daven Minchah, or say afternoon prayers, including Kaddish for his mother. (A Conservative rabbi, he includes women.)

He ended up with several rabbinical colleagues, Super Sunday volunteers, a secular Israeli kibbutznik and a reporter. The non-rabbinical men draped purple paper napkins over their heads. And there, amid the loud chatter of the JCC’s atrium, a group of people took a break from fund-raising to help the rabbi honor his mother.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."