One of the major reasons New Yorkers will overcome the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy is because of UJA-Federation of New York and its network of agencies, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the organization’s annual Wall Street Dinner Monday night.
Speaking to more than 1,500 guests, the largest turnout in the event’s history, Bloomberg added that the network’s ability to “act quickly” and to “come through” makes the federation an “important partner” in the recovery process.
The mayor’s words referred to the massive relief effort organized by the federation in the aftermath of the storm, which destroyed or damaged entire neighborhoods and left thousands of New Yorkers scrambling for food, shelter and other basics. Backed by an initial commitment of $10 million, as well as money raised since then, the federation’s agencies have provided meals, temporary shelter, counseling and other services to many of Sandy’s victims.
Much of that response coincided with the conflict in Gaza and UJA-Federation’s efforts to support thousands of Israelis whose lives were upended by rocket attacks — another aspect of its work mentioned by the mayor.
Perhaps because of those crises, Monday’s event, organized by UJA-Federation’s Wall Street and Financial Services Division, not only drew a record turnout, but also raised a record amount — the dinner brings the division’s total raised so far this fiscal year (beginning in July) to $23 million, according to Mark Medin, senior vice president for financial resource development. The figure represents a 7 percent increase in the number of gifts from 2011, according to federation leaders.
Discussing those figures with The Jewish Week, John Ruskay, UJA-Federation’s executive vice president and CEO, said he attributed the increase to several factors, including a tendency for communities to come together “whenever there’s a crisis.”
In Ruskay’s view, another factor behind the event’s success is the conviction of many people in the community that only an organization like the federation is able to respond to such a crisis as “rapidly, creatively and boldly” as it did. Many people have approached him in the past few weeks to convey precisely those thoughts, Ruskay said.
During the dinner, Ruskay referred to all the press attention the financial industry has received in recent years, not all of it flattering. But he added that “it’s the leaders of Wall Street who, for the past 40 years, have gathered at federation’s Wall Street Dinner and set the standard for communal responsibility.”
As in the past, the dinner honored two business leaders — Robert S. Kapito, president of BlackRock, and Boaz Weinstein, founder and chief investment officer of Saba Capital. Kapito received the division’s Gustave L. Levy Award, which recognizes outstanding professional achievement and an “enduring commitment” to UJA-Federation, while Weinstein received its Young Leadership Award.
Weinstein, 39, spoke of witnessing the federation’s work firsthand during a visit to two agencies with his wife, Tali. One of those agencies was the Boro Park YM-YWHA, where the two spoke with elderly Holocaust survivors involved in one of the Y’s programs. The other was the Flatbush location of Masbia, a nonprofit network of kosher soup kitchens and food pantries that serves needy New Yorkers free of charge.
The son of American and Israeli parents, Weinstein also spoke of his family’s commitment to advancing education, especially projects aimed at helping unprivileged children, and to supporting Jewish and Israeli causes.
He also introduced the family of a teenage volunteer he met at Masbia, saying he invited them to the dinner after discovering they had donated to the agency. The family’s commitment to Masbia “blew me away,” Weinstein said, adding that the family is middle class, unlike most of those attending the dinner, and that its contribution may have required that much more as a result.
Kapito, 55, asked members of his audience to recall their “defining moments,” saying that “most of us have one” and “some of us” have more. One of his own defining moments came at the age of 13, shortly after his father, a blue-collar worker, suffered a debilitating stroke. The helplessness of both his father and his family made Kapito vow to help ensure that other families never have to deal with such tragedies alone, without communal support.
His second defining moment came when he attended his first federation dinner, where he began to learn how to become a “philanthropic citizen,” Kapito said.
Both Kapito and Weinstein told The Jewish Week that they learned about philanthropy from some of the industry’s giants, including Alan “Ace” Greenberg, the former CEO of Bear Stearns and a major supporter of the federation. In turn, both are now mentoring others, including many of those who have just entered the industry and attended Monday’s dinner.
The coming generation includes Josh Myers, 24, who works at Neuberger Berman, an investment house, and says he believes in giving back to the community. Myers, who attended the dinner with his wife and sister-in-law, said he’s now an observer on one of the federation’s task forces, where he’s learning as much as he can and occasionally contributes an idea.
Another is Jenna Langel, 25, an employee of Deutsche Bank, who’s “been involved in a bunch” of federation activities, including Generosity, its group for community-minded professionals in their 20s and 30s who are hoping to become future philanthropists.
Andrew Lefkowitz, 25, has also become more and more active in federation, tracing his involvement to last year’s Wall Street Dinner, where the co-president of Morgan Stanley, Paul J. Taubman, was honored. Lefkowitz, an employee of Morgan Stanley, said hearing the stories of how Taubman, Kapito and Weinstein became involved in philanthropy is something he finds inspiring.
“You can envision one day giving back to the community in the same way these guys have given back,” he said.