25 years of Super Sundays — a cumulative success

Back in 1981 when the first ever Super Sunday was held at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, the director of the Jewish Community Federation at the time came upon a man sitting by his phone as if he were just waiting for something to happen.

“I went up to this person and said, ‘It works the other way,'” Rabbi Brian Lurie recalled.

Then there was the guy who was yelling expletives into the phone, calling his potential donor a “cheap motherf—r.”

Callers have certainly gotten the hang of it since.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation currently is gearing up for the 25th anniversary of Super Sunday in the Bay Area.

The annual fund-raiser — to be held 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20 — will bring 1,000 volunteers to the phones at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco for a day of schmoozing and socializing, yes, but more importantly, dialing for dollars in support of the community’s institutions.

But before there was Super Sunday, there was “Telethon month.”

The idea was for lay leaders involved with the Jewish Welfare Fund, as it was called then, to kick off February by making phone calls to donors, asking for contributions to the annual campaign.

But then, in 1981, the JWF launched its first Super Sunday. Jerome Dick of Virginia was the founder of the concept, and his sons who live locally, Randy and Brett, suggested the JWF try it here.

Lurie said a professional at the Washington, D.C., federation also deserved credit, for he convinced Lurie that the concept worked.

For its first five years, the Bay Area’s telethon was overseen by Roean Iscoff.

The first Super Sunday took place Sunday, Feb. 8, 1981 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and at a Paine Webber office on the Peninsula. Approximately 500 volunteers made phone calls that yielded $700,000, which, the Jewish Bulletin noted, was a 22 percent increase over the previous year’s month of fund-raising.

Richard Goldman, the JWF president that year, said, “Based on its financial success and the enthusiasm of the participants, it will probably become an integral part of future JWF campaigns.”

He was right.

When informed this year was Super Sunday’s 25th anniversary, Iscoff said, “My God, I can’t believe it was 1981. It can’t be. It’s such a long time ago, and yet it was like yesterday that we did this.”

She remembered checking into the Fairmont the night before Super Sunday only to learn that there was a problem with the phone system in the hotel. She panicked.

She also remembers bumping into entertainer Joel Grey in the elevator. She convinced him to pay a visit to the Jewish charity event going on in the hotel.

Grey did so, but Iscoff said most people were too busy phoning to pay attention to him.

Iscoff further said that in those days “the only main point was the state of Israel. With blood, sweat, tears and money, it was what we really believed in. We all worked like dogs.”

Last year, the fund-raiser netted $2.2 million, a $600,000 decrease from the previous year’s all-time high. However, that still represents a 300 percent increase from the first one.

And the number of volunteers has doubled since then, too.

But just as important, said Lurie, who recalled that first one as being both “exhausting and exhilarating,” the first Super Sunday “was a monstrous success, right off the bat.”

He’s happy it still is.


The San Francisco-based JCF’s Super Sunday will run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the JCCSF, 3200 California St., S.F. Information: (415) 512-6290 or [email protected].

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."