The speeches atUJA-Federation of New York’s annual Wall Street Dinner this week included references to the economic fear and uncertainly among the city’s financial professionals, many of whom are expecting large reductions in their end-of-year bonuses. Even the event’s emcee, actress Susie Essman, couldn’t help but touch on Occupy Wall Street, greeting the nearly 1,200 professionals, business leaders and philanthropists who came to the dinner as the “1 percent — or, should I say, the 0.1 percent.”
But, as in past years, the industry’s worries failed to dampen Wednesday’s event as members of the Wall Street community raised a record amount for federation and its network of more than 100 agencies.
Denise Gordon, director of the federation’s Wall Street and Financial Services Division, put the figure at $22 million, an increase of $2.5 million over last year. The figure also represents a 13 percent increase in the number of gifts from 2010, Gordon said.
One of federation’s major fund-raising events, the dinner featured a keynote speech by Dennis Ross, the diplomat who has worked for four U.S. presidents and helped shape America’s role in the Mideast peace process.
The dinner also honored two business leaders — Paul J. Taubman, executive vice president at Morgan Stanley, and Scott J. Shleifer, managing director of Tiger Global Management. Taubman received the division’s Gustave L. Levy Award, which recognizes outstanding professional achievement and an “enduring commitment” to federation, while Shleifer received its Young Leadership Award.
Speaking less than two weeks after he left government service, Ross offered the audience an optimistic view of the Mideast, a region on which he’ll continue to focus as a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The success of Islamic fundamentalists at the polls in Egypt should come as no surprise, he said, especially considering how organized they were. But they can’t simply impose their views on Egyptians, who, he added, now have a different view of citizenship.
The evening’s two honorees, meanwhile, spoke of their involvement with federation and the organization’s work on behalf of those in need, both in Israel and in the United States. They also emphasized the importance, in their eyes, of getting others on Wall Street involved in philanthropy, especially federation.
“Most of us have parents or grandparents who arrived in this country as immigrants,” Taubman said, adding that recalling the history of his own grandparents helps ground him. He then surprised members of his audience by referring to Elizabeth Warren, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts and a figure disliked by some on Wall Street for her role in creating the Consumer Protection Finance Bureau.
“If I might channel Elizabeth Warren for a moment,” he began, drawing an audible murmur, “none of us made it our own.” People are helped by others, are able to advance because of that help, and then give back to those who need it, he said — “and that’s what motivates my philanthropy.”
Events like the Wall Street Dinner “ground us in our values,” Taubman concluded. “They remind us that we’re blessed and, because we’re blessed, we have obligations.”
Guests at the dinner later sounded the same theme, telling The Jewish Week that they came to the event, despite fears on Wall Street, because their success carries with it a sense of responsibility.
“Ten years from now, you’ll never miss what you gave,” said Evan H. Katz, a partner in Crawford Ventures who’s been attending the dinner for many years. “But what you give will make a difference,” he added. “You can only buy so many things at the Apple Store.”
Asked about those who see Wall Street in a negative light, Katz said he sees “no contradiction between doing well and being a responsible member of society. … Shakespeare never said that money was the ‘root of all evil.’ He said ‘the love of money.’ It’s all about perspective.”
While Katz is a longtime supporter of federation, Stacey Asher, 29, said she knew little of the organization before the event, which she attended for the first time. The owner of Aesa, a consulting firm in investor relations and marketing, Asher said she came to the dinner at the invitation of Morgan Stanley and found herself impressed by federation’s work.
“I want to get more involved,” she continued. “I’m hoping to reach out to several people on the board and find out more about the organization.”
Words like that are music to federation leaders, who hope to groom a new generation of philanthropists and see the Wall Street Dinner as one vehicle for involving them.
The dinner includes an after-party organized by the division’s Young Wall Street Committee, said Mark Medin, federation’s senior vice president of financial resources and development. “Probably 90 percent of the people who stay” for the party are young professionals, he said.
Although Medin declined to discuss specific figures, he said some of the division’s longtime donors have held off on making their gifts until they see what happens to their bonuses. But that’s “no different” from past years, Medin said, adding, “We’re not concerned at this point.”
John Ruskay, federation’s executive vice president and CEO, noted that bonuses have yet to be distributed, leaving whatever impact they have an open question. But despite economic troubles, he added, “our experience in the past few years is that people have recognized the unique role of UJA-Federation and stayed with us,” even as new friends join.