Ring around the dollar
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Ring around the dollar

If you’re generally in the habit of hanging up on telemarketers as quickly as possible — especially if they’re bothering you on a Sunday — you may want to rethink the practice, at least for Sunday, Jan. ‘9. Because chances are you will get an unsolicited phone call that day, and chances are it will be from someone selling you something. Only it most likely won’t be some phone hack bugging you to take out a second mortgage, it will be a volunteer from the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey asking you to invest in the Jewish community’s future.

Some 600 or so volunteers will make 15,000 or so phone calls in 1′ hours as the local federation engages in its annual "Super Sunday" telethon in hopes of raising some $1.5 million to help kick-start its ‘006 campaign.

"It’s our biggest community-building day of the year," said Ken Saibel, the federation’s associate executive vice president and campaign director. "It’s our opportunity to reach out and connect one person at a time to the community, and to give them a chance to play a vital role in helping Jews throughout the world."

Super Sunday, which was started in the late 1970s by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, is now replicated by nearly every Jewish federation in the country. UJA-NNJ will commandeer the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge for the day and set up 150 phones for the event, where volunteers will take three-hour shifts. Each volunteer will be given a box of pledge cards with the name, phone number, and address of a Jewish community member, and it will be the volunteer’s job to convince the person on the other end of the phone that the federation is a worthwhile investment.

While the most direct pitch may be to tell that person that the federation helps fund nearly every synagogue, Jewish day school, and Jewish institution in northern New Jersey and sends millions of dollars to Israel and the world Jewish community through the United Jewish Communities, Saibel said that this year he wants volunteers to help those they solicit find a personal reason to give. "Every volunteer has a hot button that turns them onto the Jewish world, and we would like them to connect with that," he said. "One might be involved in tikkun olam, or another in social justice, or resettling Jewish ?migr?s. There are 100 different reasons, and the volunteers have the opportunity to identify for themselves what brought them out to Super Sunday, and hopefully that personal connection will help them connect to the donor."

This will be the second Super Sunday for UJA-NNJ since it was formed by the merger of the former Jewish Federation of North Jersey and the UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson.

Those neighboring federations merged, in part, to both close fund-raising gaps between the areas and to eradicate overlap in their fund-raising efforts. In past years, according to Saibel, the North Jersey federation raised around $400,000 in its annual Super Sunday, and the Bergen County/North Hudson federation raised about $1 million. The UJA-NNJ raised about $1.4 in the first merged Super Sunday last year. The desired $100,000 increase is not dramatic, but it should increase in the long term, said Saibel.

Individual Super Sunday donations tend to hover in the $100 to $500 area, but they range from anywhere between $10 and the occasional mega-gift of $’5,000.

"You’re always surprised when you’re making thousands of phone calls," said Eliot Halperin, the federation’s assistant campaign director. "Sometimes you’ll get that $1,000 gift, or that first-time gift from someone."

And for others the phone call asking for help turns into a help line, said Janis Oolie, the director of the federation’s community campaign and young leadership division. Volunteers often call to ask for a donation and end up finding out that it’s really the person on the other line needs help, and the federation has professionals on hand to help them.

"People could be out of work, and we’ll get them in touch with Jewish Family Service, or an ill family member may need help, and we can get them assistance or help get them into a nursing home," said Oolie.

That’s what makes the event special for Dan Silna, the federation’s president. Silna said that he has been helping at Super Sunday for 15 or so years, but he remembers one case in particular, when a volunteer called someone one year and that person gave a minimal gift. The next year, that volunteer called the same person, and he had fallen on hard times, lost his job, and was having finaincial difficulties. The volunteer got him in touch with a federation beneficiary agency that helped find him a job and get him back on his feet. The next year, that person gave a larger gift than he had before he fell upon hard times, and has since become involved as a federation volunteer.

"He now understands on a first-hand basis what federation does ," said Silna. It helps the Jewish community, and it takes care of Jews."

"The sound of your phone ringing on Sunday [Jan. ‘9] means that help is on the way throughout the world," said Saibel.

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