Jewish Journal

Giving Back

Refugees, Politicos Boost Valley Totals on Super Sunday

by Wendy J. Madnick

Posted on Mar. 2, 2000 at 6:59 pm

It was only last May that a rag-tag group of refugees from the Balkans arrived at the Bernard Milken Campus in West Hills, fleeing from the war zone of their homeland with little more than the clothes on their backs.

On Feb. 27, less than a year later, one of the six families rescued from Kosovo returned to the community center to participate in the biggest fundraiser of the year, and perhaps give back a little of what they had received from the Los Angeles Jewish community.

"I'm afraid a little bit. Maybe I'll make a mistake," said Lumnije Valashi, 22, who had been chosen to make the first call on Super Sunday.

Lumnije need not have worried; she followed the call script perfectly, securing a donation from former Jewish Community Relations Committee Chair Mark Novak and even getting him to make a 25 percent increase over his last year's pledge.

Although the Valashi declined to be interviewed, it was clear from the relaxed and happy look on Lumnije's father's face that the family had found peace in their new home.

Super Sunday also presented the perfect occasion for elected officials to show their loyalty to the Jewish community. Valashi was joined in making the day's first official phone calls by Antonio Villaraigosa, Speaker of the California State Assembly and a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles.

The speaker, who has participated in Super Sunday for the past five years, complimented his first donor, attorney Richard Wortman, for his pledge of $2,500.

"That's a big increase [over last year]," Villaraigosa said. "You're very generous."

Demonstrating an almost gleeful intensity, Villaraigosa then dialed caller after caller for more than an hour.

"I'm not leaving until I get $10,000," he said.

True to his word, he stayed until he had acquired $10,500 in pledges.

Asked if any of his callers realized to whom they were speaking, Villaraigosa said good-naturedly, "Of the 12 people I spoke to, seven knew who I was and were very surprised to get the call. Another three did not believe it was me."

Other officials who made their way to the phone banks included Assembly members Wally Knox and Sheila Kuehl, Congressman Brad Sherman, State Sen. Richard Alarcon and City Councilman Alex Padilla.

Knox joked that the fundraiser had become so entrenched, it qualified as another Jewish holiday.

"I have a feeling a thousand years from now Jews will find themselves sitting around their telephone on a Sunday in February, saying 'Where did this tradition come from?' And the answer will be, from the San Fernando Valley," Knox said.

This year's phone-a-thon was held in the new Fern Milken Youth & Sports Complex in West Hills. The vast space allowed Federation officials to increase the number of phones from the usual 100 to 150.

"What's really amazing is even with the increase, we're almost full," said David Levy, campaign director for the Valley Alliance. "The third shift is way overbooked."

Many parents and grandparents who volunteered to do phone duty or stuff envelopes also brought their children and grandchildren to participate in the "Mitzvah-thon" held in the Milken auditorium. The event was open to children ages 5-12 and involved art projects such as making challah covers for residents of the Jewish Homes for the Aging, bookmarks for the community literacy program Koreh L.A. and "beadie baby" key chains for patients at Children's Hospital.

"It's a way of showing kids you can do for others without giving money," said Pam Ross, preschool director for the West Valley Jewish Community Center.

Kelsey Catrall, 9, worked on patches for a friendship quilt along with members of her Bet class from Temple B'nai Hayim. The quilt would later be donated to Children's Hospital.

"I like helping other people and making them happy," said Catrall. "Last year in Aleph [class] we made a tzedakah box and at home we've been putting money into it. When it's full we take it back to school. That's mostly the kind of charity we do."

By day's end, the 1,000 volunteers had raised $1.5 million. Ken Warner, the Valley Alliance's campaign chair, said he expected the community would give generously this year.

"The economy is good, unemployment is down and people want to share their good fortune," he said.

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