Despite a still shaky economy, the disasters and turmoil of the last year moved members of the Middlesex Jewish community to share generously with the more vulnerable on Super Sunday.
Donations to the annual phonathon — held Jan. 13, with follow-up call nights on Jan. 21 and 22 — increased by almost 13 percent over last year to $575,405.
The total was a welcome surprise for Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County leaders, who had set a goal of $565,000 for the event toward its $2.1 million annual campaign target.
“The energy and commitment of our volunteers and donors was inspiring,” said federation associate executive director Susan Antman. “The last few months, both at home with Hurricane Sandy and during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the community reflected on how quickly circumstances can change and how lucky they really were to be able to be in the position to help others.”
As evidence of that realization and willingness to helping Jews locally, in Israel and overseas, as well their neighbors, Antman said, community members in the last several months donated an additional $54,000 to help victims of the superstorm and $6,200 for an emergency fund for Israel.
Forced to reschedule and downsize its expanded Super Sunday — which had been booked for Nov. 18 at Rutgers University — because of Sandy, federation moved the event to its South River offices.
The 250 volunteers — some wearing green Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva and red Rutgers Hillel caps and yellow Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley T-shirts — made solicitation calls, this year, for the first time, only using cell phones. They paused only to listen to messages from politicians who stopped by to offer encouragement and many of whom stayed to make calls themselves.
State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Dist. 18) told the volunteers she was happy to represent the “chai district,” while Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno talked about her long involvement with the Jewish community and its institutions and touched on their history of caring for others and shared concern for storm victims.
Surveying the flurry of activity around him, federation president Seth Gross of Highland Park said, “I think this is going gangbusters.”
“People are excited to volunteer to help with a wonderful cause,” he said. “People who are receiving those calls seem to understand that with their pledges, they can make good things happen.”
One of those volunteers, Joe Omansky of East Brunswick, said that coming out for federation was a longstanding tradition.
“My family is a big supporter of federation,” he said. “They support the Jewish community in need.
“My kids go to Schechter, which receives support from federation, so for us it’s a wonderful cause. From my perspective, if you can support federation, you should.”
Nancy Asher-Shultz of South Brunswick was a Marion and Norman Tanzman Fellow, a cohort of leaders from institutions and synagogues engaged in community building through federation.
“As a Tanzman fellow I had the blessing and good fortune to learn what federation does in New Jersey and in the United States. And from a trip we took to Israel, I now know what they do in Israel,” she said.
Leah Zweig of East Brunswick, who turned 17 on Jan. 25, was helping at her first Super Sunday after receiving federation assistance to travel to Israel.
“I wanted to help so that others can have the same experience,” she said. “I didn’t know what federation did before, but I’m glad I do now.”
And as she gathered pledge cards to be tallied, Shayna Dessau, 11, of Edison, said, “It’s kind of fun helping the community.”