In 1999, Alexander Khananashvili left behind his prosperous life as a Moscow doctor to immigrate to the United States with his wife and two daughters, hoping for a better future. He came with little money, no job prospects and no knowledge of English.
With the help of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Khananashvili and his family quickly found their footing. Within two days of their arrival, the former doctor and his wife met with a social worker from Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a Federation beneficiary agency.
The social worker spoke to them at length about life in America, giving them information on everything from opening a bank account to enrolling in a medical plan. Within a few weeks, Khananashvili had several job leads, courtesy of JVS, while his wife enrolled, for free, in an English-language class offered by the agency.
Subsequently, The Federation awarded scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars to enroll the Khananashvili daughters in Jewish day schools and Jewish camps, which, Khananashvili said, has helped cement their Jewish identities.
"The Federation improved our lives," said Khananashvili, now a 48-year-old social worker and Beverly Hills resident. "They gave us our start here and protected us under their shield. We're very grateful."
During the past 30 years, The Federation has helped 30,000 Jews from around the world settle in the greater Los Angeles area. On Feb. 26, The Federation will hold its annual Super Sunday megafundraiser to support its 22 beneficiary agencies, including the Refugee and Resettlement Program that helped the Khananashvilis, as well as myriad other programs.
For the fundraiser, an estimated 1,900 volunteers will gather from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to staff phones at three sites: The Federation's headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills and the Torrance Marriott. They will be making calls to potential donors, with the goal of raising $4.7 million.
Craig Prizant, The Federation's executive vice president for financial resource development, said he hopes this year's Super Sunday fundraising will break its record by $200,000 over 2005. He said he feels optimistic, because many local Jews have profited from the sizzling real estate market, enabling them to give more generously. In addition, The Federation has identified and plans to contact the growing population of Jews in the West Valley, including West Hills, and in such South Bay cities as Manhattan Beach and Torrance.
Still, "the needs are always going to outweigh what we can raise," Prizant said.
That's especially true for Jewish Family Service (JFS) and Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), two Federation beneficiary agencies that have been particularly hard hit by cuts in government funding.
The JFS Gramercy Place Shelter, for instance, has lost about $180,000 in federal and state money over the past two years, a huge financial hit, according to Paul Castro, the agency's executive director. The 57-bed homeless shelter, which, Castro said, "seems to be chronically at risk," has managed to stay afloat only because JFS has filled the gap with private donations. However, because of the government shortfall, JFS has not been able to expand the existing programs or introduce needed new ones at a time when demand for services has skyrocketed, Castro said.
In this age of budget deficits, JFS and other local nonprofits increasingly rely on funds generated by Super Sunday and other private-sector initiatives to maintain present service levels, Castro said.
"When you look at what's happening with government funding, you're seeing a bigger expectation that private donors will take a greater responsibility for meeting the safety net," he said. "And Super Sunday is an important example of how this community is working toward that reality."
JVS also has seen demand for its services outstrip resources to provide them. In 2002, for instance, the agency's staff included eight full-time job developers tracking down leads for clients. Today, JFS has one full-time and one part-time employment developer.
Reduced funding has forced JVS to move away from individual sessions for resume writing and interviewing. Instead, said Vivian B. Seigel, JVS chief executive, much of the training is now done in a group setting.
In light of those realities, she said, Super Sunday's importance to JVS should not be underestimated.
"We look at the money generated by Super Sunday as extremely important," Seigel said. "It has enabled us to reach out to families we know are living below the poverty line and to offer important services, ranging from help in finding jobs that pay a living wage to college tuition scholarships."
Among those calling prospective donors will be the Khananashvilis, who, in addition to making pitches, will make their own donation, just as they have every year since coming to America.
"We like being able to give back," Khananashvili said. "In the beginning, it was only $10, but $10 for us was maybe more than $1,000 now. It was a lot of money."
To volunteer for or make a donation to Super Sunday, call (866) 968-7333.