What I Learned from Hosting a Zoom Fundraiser in a Pandemic

By September 18, 2020

By Lisa J. Jerles

Since its inception, Kluger Kaplan has encouraged attorneys at all levels to get involved in our local community, and as a result, there is a culture of volunteerism and philanthropy ingrained in our team.

On Monday, March 9, I met Jon Warech, Executive Director of Hillel at Florida International University (FIU), at Panther Coffee to discuss our plans for a fall gala. COVID-19 was on our minds, but other than trying not to touch my face, I did not give it a second thought. But by that Friday, schools were closed, and we were sheltering in place. Still, our plans for a fall gala felt doable…until suddenly, they weren’t.

Making a quick pivot, we looked to our annual Rosh Hahaha event, a night of stand-up comedy typically geared toward students and held on FIU’s campus. We hoped everyone was ready to laugh for a change, and by leveraging Zoom, the new virtual format would allow the event to be accessible to a much wider audience. Thus Rosh Hahaha 2020 was born.

Soliciting funds is challenging under the best of circumstances, so we set initially modest fundraising goals and set out to build a strong host committee made up of South Florida Jewish leaders. While some have a connection to FIU, others participated in Hillel programming at their own school, and wanted local, Jewish college students to have a similar experience. Some committee members are passionate about combating growing antisemitism on college campuses, while others are focused on building the next generation of local Jewish leaders. Whatever their motivation, our host committee stepped up to the plate, securing sponsors and selling tickets and party packs filled with vodka and Snickers! We steadily increased our fundraising target and eventually doubled our initial goal.

Of course, all of the behind-the-scenes work was only going to be as good as the content we provided. Legendary comedian Steve Guttenberg served as the Master of Ceremonies for a lineup of hilarious Jewish comics, including Ben Gleib, Jessica Kirson, Josh Gondelman, and (my favorite) Kira Soltanovich. After six strange months, it felt really good to laugh out loud about something!

Following the virtual show, sponsors joined Kira in a special breakout room to hear about the rapid shift in her life in comedy as a result of the pandemic. Kira was funny, thoughtful, and just a touch irreverent, capping off an amazing night. At the end of the day, the success of Rosh Hahaha 2020 was proof that we can innovatively leverage digital spaces to create a sense of community even when we cannot be together in person.