Answering the Call

Anne Roberts is passionate about the idea of tzedakah, a concept she has diligently instilled in her son Spencer Nieman.

A second-grader who is not quite 8 years old, Spencer has managed to save up $120 this year and will donate it in a small ceremony that has become an annual tradition on Super Sunday, the biggest single day of fund raising for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ United Jewish Fund each year.

Spencer is following the example set by his older brother, Mitchell, who died 3 1/2 years ago at age 6.

“Mitchell understood our job was to take care of people in need,” his mother said. “On Super Sunday, he would go on stage to share his gift. This is something that Spencer has continued to do year after year.”

As have many of the 5,000 volunteers who will spend this Sunday making phone calls, licking envelopes and doing person-to-person solicitations in an attempt to raise as much money as possible for the UJF.

Super Sunday, which will take place at four locations scattered across Los Angeles, reaches more than 50,000 people and raises about one-tenth of the annual total contributions to the UJF. Last year, $4.45 million was added to UJF coffers. This year’s goal is to increase that figure to $5 million.

Most of the funds go to benefit the Federation’s 17 beneficiary agencies, which combat hunger, disease, disabilities, family violence, alcohol and drug addiction in Los Angeles, as well as provide educational services, legal and psychological assistance, recreation programs and avenues to strengthen Jewish commitment. A third of the money is spent overseas to support Israel and Jews in 58 countries.

Part of the pitch that volunteers will make when they dial for dollars will be: About 10 percent of the 519,000 Jews in the Federation’s service area are living in poverty, according to the Federation’s recent demographic report, and many elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union are near starvation.

“The need is always urgent. There’s never enough money,” said David Aaronson, 1999 Super Sunday chair, who added that possibly as many as 200,000 Jews in the former Soviet Union are living in poverty.

“We often don’t have a clue how many ways we give to people through the United Jewish Fund,” said Roberts, who is chairing volunteer training this year. “What Super Sunday does is allow us, by making one gift, to help Jews in Los Angeles and also hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout the world who would starve without our help.”

In honor of Roberts’ late son, Mitchell, a number of Westside religious schools have raised tzedakah money and will come to the Westside Super Sunday site to deliver the proceeds to the Mitchell Nieman Fund. The goal is to teach kids to incorporate tzedakah into their lives, Roberts said.

This year, the Orthodox presence on the phone banks may be larger than usual. Volunteers from Young Israel of Century City, B’nai David-Judea Congregation, Sha’arei Tefila and Yavneh Hebrew Academy, among others, will make calls on Super Sunday.

“We’ve made a commitment for more participation of our synagogue in the Federation,” said Young Israel’s Gary Naren.

Orthodox involvement in Federation has often been limited in the past, since many members of the Orthodox community believe that the umbrella agency doesn’t pay enough attention to their needs, Naren conceded. But, in the long run, this may be self-defeating, he said.

“The only way the Federation is going to reach out for the involvement of the Orthodox community is to have more people involved in the Federation who are Orthodox.” — Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer