Super Sunday volunteers hope to ring up big bucks

February 1, 2007

Betty Hamburger’s impressive record of having attended nearly every Super Sunday since the megafundraiser’s inception in 1979 looked as though it would come to an end four years ago.

Sporting a broken wrist and a sprained ankle from a slip-and-fall accident at home, the Westwood resident seemed a better candidate for bed rest than making calls at Super Sunday, the L.A. Jewish Federation’s largest annual single-day fundraiser. But Hamburger, now in her 70s, refused to let aches and pains stand in her way. She attended the 2003 Super Sunday, but had her daughter, Faith Gershbock, fill out the pledge cards as she made the calls.

“I just [couldn’t] write anything at all with my left hand,” said Hamburger, a Federation board member.

On Feb. 11, Hamburger plans to arrive at The Federation’s 6505 Wilshire Blvd. headquarters at about 9 a.m., accompanied by her daughter and other family members. After grabbing a cup of coffee, she said she will spend more than five hours working the phones, coaxing local Jews to open their wallets to help The Federation reach its 2007 Super Sunday goal of $4.5 million.

Hamburger said she can’t wait.

“Even more important than the money it brings in, Super Sunday brings us all together,” Hamburger said. “Russians are making calls in Russian. Persians are making calls in Farsi. Israelis are making calls in Hebrew. But all of us are there together as the voice of the American Jewish community.”

However, this year’s megafundraiser will take place against a backdrop of organizational turmoil and possible subsidy reductions to Federation beneficiary agencies.

With government funding shrinking and demand for social services growing across the board, The Federation and its 22 beneficiary agencies know that a successful Super Sunday could go a long way toward funding an array of programs that feed the hungry, teach the illiterate to read and extend interest-free loans to college students and to Jewish couples seeking fertility treatments, among other services.

Last year, beneficiary agencies received $16 million in subsidies and $3 million worth of services from The Federation.

“Super Sunday is critical for us,” said Claudia Finkel, chief operating officer of Jewish Vocational Service, which receives an estimated $800,000 from The Federation to support job training and many other programs. “It absolutely addresses our core needs in the Jewish community.”

Super Sunday tallies account for roughly 10 percent of The Federation’s annual budget. In 2006, Super Sunday raised $4.4 million, down $200,000 from 2005’s $4.6 million total.

The success of this year’s Super Sunday might take on even greater import for beneficiary agencies if The Federation enacts across-the-board funding cuts. Several agency heads, who requested anonymity, said Federation executives have warned of 5 percent to 10 percent reductions in this year’s agency allocations.

Those cutbacks could, theoretically, be reduced or staved off if The Federation could increase Super Sunday and other fundraising, insiders said.

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon dismissed such speculation as “rumors” and said no cuts are planned, noting that The Federation budget has yet to be approved.

On Jan. 12, less than one month before Super Sunday, The Federation relieved chief fundraiser Craig Prizant of his job. Federation executives have declined to give a reason for his sudden departure. Prizant had served as executive vice president of financial resource development since 2004 and had worked closely with major donors.

Dragon said she thought volunteers and the organization’s professional staff would help make Super Sunday “a very successful day,” despite Prizant’s absence.
Many volunteers, in their phone solicitations, will highlight Federation support for and programming in Israel, Dragon said. The Jewish state, she said, continues to have “a lot of human and social services needs” as a result of the Lebanon War and needs much more help. Last year, The Federation’s special Israel in Crisis campaign raised about $20 million.

About one-third of the money raised in The Federation’s annual campaign goes for overseas allocations, with the bulk earmarked for Israel. In 2006, The Federation’s annual campaign raised $48 million, including $2.6 million in endowment funding, up from $47.5 million the year before, which included $2.3 million in endowment funding.

At this year’s Super Sunday, an expected 1,800 volunteers will gather from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to staff the phones at Federation headquarters, as well as the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills and the Crowne Plaza in Redondo Beach. Between pitches for donations, participants will share food, laughter and perhaps even a little gossip. Several local politicians, including L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, plan to attend.

Super Sunday mainstay Hamburger said she learned the importance of volunteerism from her Grandmother Frieda, who “indoctrinated me growing up” about the need to help the less fortunate. Hamburger, who, along with her mother, moved in with her grandmother after her father died when she was 6, remembers a placard that hung from her grandmother’s wall: “It Is Not Thy Duty to Complete the Task, but Neither Art Thou Free From Doing Your Share” (Pirke Avot.)

Hamburger has taken that message to heart, volunteering or serving on myriad organizational boards, including the Bureau of Jewish Education, the University of Judaism and Hadassah. Over the years, she has attended hundreds of fundraisers for Jewish organizations, but none resonates with her quite like Super Sunday.

“You go home with a great big feeling,” Hamburger said.

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