Super Sunday to ring phones for Federation

Alfred Katz had no choice but to donate to The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

It was 1952, and Katz was a first-year surgical resident at Cedars of Lebanon. His wife, Cecilia Eve, had just given birth to their first son, and she told Katz they needed to thank God by giving $35 to The Federation.

“I said, ‘We can’t give $35,’ and she said, ‘We must,'” Katz, 82, recalled Monday. “She called up The Federation and they asked, ‘Who solicited you?’ and she said, ‘God.'”

More than half a century later, the Katzes still give consistently to The Federation. And on Feb. 10, Alfred Katz again will be working the phones trying to get other Jewish Angelenos to give back, something he’s done each Super Sunday, save one, since the annual fundraiser’s 1979 inception.

“There are so many Jews who are needy,” he said. “We were lucky; we survived. We have kids and grandkids, and we were so blessed by God. It’s important that we give.”

Nearly 2,000 volunteers will show that they share that sentiment Sunday, when they gather from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Federation headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. and at its Valley Alliance location at the New JCC at Milken in West Hills, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the South Bay.

They will call past contributors, thank them for their gifts and ask them to continue supporting the Jewish community by giving to The Federation, which allocates funding to 22 beneficiaries that include Jewish Family Service (JFS) and the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE). If past years are any indication, The Federation can expect to raise close to 10 percent of its annual campaign in those 12 hours. Last year, Super Sunday donations totaled $4.4 million, up $200,000 from the previous year.

“Super Sunday is important financially. It’s a large sum of money. Let’s make no doubt about that,” Federation President John Fishel said. “It is early enough in the kickoff of the campaign that it sets a certain tone. The success of Super Sunday helps us to then sustain a positive momentum through the balance of the annual campaign.”

No formal target was set this year, but The Federation’s new lay leader, Stanley P. Gold, said last month that he intends to increase the annual campaign by at least 10 percent from its 2007 mark of just under $50 million.

That’s a goal eagerly greeted by leaders of agencies that have watched their government support shrink during the past few years and expect it to get worse as California faces a $14 billion budget shortfall. At the same time, the U.S. economy appears to be teetering on the edge of a recession — some would say based on last week’s Labor Department report that it’s already begun — and, said Paul Castro, JFS executive director and CEO, “There is a real sense that social services from a funding perspective are under siege at a time when there is a growing need.”

JFS, which began in 1854 as the Hebrew Benevolent Society, receives about $3 million in annual support from The Federation. It was the city’s first charity and today is the largest private nonprofit social service agency. It helps more than 50,000 people each year, from providing shelter to feeding the hungry, counseling domestic violence victims to assisting Holocaust survivors. But about 40 percent of JFS’ annual $27 million budget is funded by local, state and federal governments, and the agency anticipates losing at least $500,000 in state funding based on the governor’s proposed budget.

“When government funding begins to pull back, the needs don’t change. As we are seeing now, many times government funding is pulling back when the needs are greater,” Castro said. “The kind of private funding generated through Super Sunday and The Federation are vital as we try to fill the gaps and plan for the next few years.”

Other Jewish agencies, like BJE, don’t receive governmental support and are that much more reliant on The Federation.

“It is essential, vital, indispensable — all of the above,” said Gil Graff, executive director of the bureau, which receives about $4 million annually, two-thirds of its budget, from The Federation. “The reality is that Jewish life depends on the strength of Jewish education. There is no future to Jewish life if there aren’t people who understand what it means to be a Jew.”

But, as Katz noted, even those who don’t know much about Jewish life feel connected to Jews, a sentiment he emphasized with a story from 1945, when he was an Army sergeant stuck in Belgium after VE Day, one that he said underlies his commitment to giving back.

“As I was walking down the street, I saw four British men, and they had a special emblem on their shoulder. I walked over, and it was a Jewish Brigade,” Katz said. “I walked up to them, and I said, ‘When’s Pesach?’ They looked at me and said, ‘We don’t know.'”

Katz confirmed that they were from Palestine and again asked when Passover would begin, incredulous that they didn’t know. But then, he said, he began the “Shema,” and they joined in.

“I’ll never forget the Jewish British Brigade,” Katz said. “We are all Jews, and we can all say “Shema Yisrael” together.”To volunteer for Super Sunday or to donate, visit call (323) 761-8319.