The more than 250 volunteers ranged in age from 7 to 90. They came from Squirrel Hill, the South Hills, Allison Park. They were Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and “just Jews,” observed Jeff Finkelstein, as he surveyed the packed Levinson Hall at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh on Dec. 3.
“What’s amazing here,” said Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, “is the diversity of the Pittsburgh Jewish community,” uniting to raise funds for the Federation at its annual mega phone-a-thon, “Super Sunday.”
The volunteers, working in shifts, phoned approximately 4,000 households from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., securing 422 pledges totaling $246,609 for the Federation’s 2018 annual campaign — exceeding the organization’s goal of $210,000.
More than 90 of the Super Sunday pledges came from new or “recovered” donors, those who have not given to the Federation in the past, or whose record of giving had lapsed, according to Todd Rosenfeld, chair of Federation’s Men’s Philanthropy. The bounty of new and recovered donors triggered the receipt of a matching grant of $25,000 from an anonymous donor.
Rosenfeld attributed the success of Super Sunday to the dedication of the volunteers.
“They care a ton about the community and are great stewards,” Rosenfeld said. “They have great community connections and know other people who care.”
In these days of Caller ID, those established connections are critical in getting potential donors to pick up the phone when called for a gift. Volunteers, therefore, primarily were using their personal cell phones to make calls.
You’ve got to keep going. It’s a mitzvah; that’s what you do.
For those making calls on random cell phones to people they didn’t know, securing donations was not as easy.
Michal Admon, a ninth-grader from Hillel Academy, spent about two hours phoning almost 50 different households. Most people did not answer the phone, she said, and those who did declined to donate.
“People would say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not available,’ or tell me to call back later,” Admon said.
Despite being unable to secure a single pledge, Admon said that she was not discouraged and that she would volunteer in the future for Super Sunday.
“You’ve got to keep going,” she said. “It’s a mitzvah; that’s what you do.”
Sanford Ehrenreich, who has been soliciting funds for Federation for “30 or 40 years,” had a bit more luck.
“I got some recovered cards, people who had not given in a couple years,” Ehrenreich said. “It’s very gratifying. One person actually thanked me for calling.”
The nine organizations that are Federation beneficiaries set up their own tables to make calls, competing to see who could attract the most volunteers. The winner was Hillel Academy. The Orthodox day school received a check from the Federation for $1,000 in recognition of its efforts.
Other participating organizations included South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh and the Diller Teen Fellows.
“It’s been a great day,” said Judi Kanal, chair of Super Sunday. “There was a huge turnout of people making calls, and the energy in the room has been phenomenal. Some people have been here all day, and others have been here for hours and hours.”
The dedication of the volunteers, she said, “is inspiring. It’s truly a labor of love.”
Although fewer households pledged funds to Federation this year, the total amount raised represented a 13 percent increase from last year, according to Emily Richman, the Federation’s associate director of development operations.
In conjunction with Super Sunday, the Federation also sponsored a blood drive, and representatives from the Gift of Life bone marrow registry were on hand to swab cheeks and get people registered as potential bone marrow donors. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at