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Superheroes for Charity

Fund-raiser for local and international Jewish programs comes to Northern Virginia.

Over two dozen high school students from Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church used their phone skills for charity Sunday, Dec. 11, at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. The students joined over 800 other volunteers as part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington's Super Sunday fund-raiser, a phone-a-thon designed to raise awareness and support for Jewish programs and agencies.

Spider-Man and Superman balloons hovered over tables lined with volunteers, reflecting this year's superhero theme.

"It's the idea of being a hero at home," said event chair Marcy Cohen. "You can do something very important in the community. It's a nice and easy way to make a difference."

"It's one of the Almighty's commandments, one of God's commandments," said volunteer David Weishaar. "It's the biggest thing you can do, to help somebody else."

Like Weishaar, who heard about Super Sunday through Chabad Lubavitch of Fairfax, many volunteers came through their synagogues or organizations.

The Jewish Federation supports local synagogues and organizations, as well as agencies such as the Jewish Council on Aging and the Jewish Social Security Agency. Its goal this year is to raise $26.8 million, which includes $1 million set aside for a special local outreach program, said Irene Kaplan of the Jewish Federation.

"We did a population survey and updated the numbers on the size of our community," said Kaplan. "We're trying to pull everyone into one community and make everyone aware of the resources and services here."

ASIDE FROM local efforts, the Jewish Federation also supports relief programs for Hurricane Katrina and tsunami victims, she said, as well as interfaith efforts through the Jewish Community Relations Council.

"Federation is a great organization that does good things, not only for people in our metro area, but throughout the world," said Warren Cohen, who helped chair the event. The Jewish Federation's programs extend from Brazil and Argentina to Israel, he said.

The Jewish Federation has designated two priority programs this year, said Kaplan: one helping Ethiopian immigrants integrate into Israeli life, and another for "Operation Promise," which supports Jewish people in the former Soviet Union.

Super Sunday is the Jewish Federation's largest single-day fund-raising event each year, said Jewish Federation president David Butler, but its focus is not as much on concrete dollars as it is i creating awareness and support.

"We're generating donors and understanding from the community about really getting involved," said Butler.

This year's Super Sunday was bigger than ever, said Butler. The event, founded by past president Jerry Dick over 20 years ago, has been copied by Jewish groups across the nation, he said. This year, the Washington, D.C. area event expanded for the first time to three locations: Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The turnout of volunteers was "absolutely fabulous," said Kaplan, and surpassed the original goal of 700 volunteers.

About a third of the D.C. area's Jewish population resides in Northern Virginia, said Kaplan, and so it made sense to have a Super Sunday event specific to the Virginia area.

"It created some excitement to have a new format," said Marcy Cohen. "Realistically, people are happy to stay with their community."

Several local politicians also showed up at the JCC to make calls. Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) said he was particularly pleased that the event was in Virginia this year.

"They are trying to wean themselves off the Maryland focus and try to recognize the vibrant Jewish community in Virginia," said Connolly.

Northern Virginia boasts a close-knit Jewish community, said Fred Cooper, a Springfield resident who came with Congregation Olam Tikvah.

"We're fairly spread out, from Ashburn to Arlington, but there is a good level of togetherness," said Cooper.

Cooper, who had been manning the phones for about two hours, said that everyone who promised donations pledged more than they had the year before.

"[The community] is very giving," he said.