Lloyd Blankfein put his arms around his colleagues David Solomon and Gary Cohn and asked, “Where’s the hora?”
Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., was right to be perplexed. There was no good reason for the hora, the dance traditionally performed at Jewish celebrations, to be absent from last night’s Wall Street Dinner. For the Jewish financial-services community, the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York benefit is as much a family occasion as any bar mitzvah or wedding.
Every family evolves. While bankers from Salomon Brothers and Kuhn, Loeb & Co. once occupied the dais, hedge-fund managers now dominate, a fact accentuated when Daniel Och, the head of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC, called for applause for Alan “Ace” Greenberg, the former head of Bear Stearns Cos., only to find he was missing from the raised platform.
Greenberg later returned to his seat among the 54 board members and donors, next to another hedge-fund manager, John Paulson, who said the fun of the event is “seeing all the people here.”
A large and generous crowd gathered at the New York Hilton and raised more than $26 million, up from $23 million last year and the biggest sum in its history.
It also drew the biggest number of guests -- 1,700, up from 1,500 last year, said Robert Kapito, chairman of the UJA’s Wall Street and Financial Services Division and president of BlackRock Inc. These included David Blitzer of Blackstone Group LP, Michael Karsch, founder of KCM Consulting LLC, Larry Robbins, CEO of Glenview Capital Management, and Boaz Weinstein of Saba Capital.
UJA-Federation will spend $140 million this year assisting the poor, elderly and children at risk in New York, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as on education, social service and community-building initiatives in the U.S., Israel and more than 70 other countries. The non-profit group works with almost 100 agencies, synagogues and other Jewish organizations.
Blankfein received the Gustave L. Levy Award, named for a legendary predecessor of his at Goldman Sachs. His chief operating officer, Cohn, received the same award five years ago, and the firm’s global head of merchant banking, Richard Friedman, received it six years ago.
“I go first on the letterhead,” Blankfein said when asked about the order of honorees.
Blankfein sat next to Cohn, who introduced him; shook hands with the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan; coveted the shofar -- a horn and musical instrument -- given to the keynote speaker, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; and rejected Och’s description of him as an icon.
“I can’t take any more of this,” Blankfein said, adding that he was “only six months older” than David Wassong, the co-head of private equity at Soros Fund Management LLC, who received the Wall Street Young Leadership Award.
Addressing the attendees, Blankfein said the award was meaningful because he benefited from Jewish agencies growing up in a tough neighborhood.
“The only person I knew who put on a suit every day was our rabbi,” Blankfein said. That rabbi “encouraged me to think about the world beyond East New York,” and found funding for him to attend after-school programs and summer camp. Those experiences shaped “what I could aspire to and what I could accomplish,” Blankfein said.
Robert Soros, the deputy chairman and president of Soros Fund Management, introduced Wassong, whom he hired 15 years ago.
Wassong told the crowd that before a UJA trip he made to Israel about 18 months ago, he’d “never given much consideration to organized Jewish philanthropy.”
“I realized that as assimilated and secular a Jew I might be, I could no longer ignore it,” Wassong said.
The New-York Historical Society honored its executive chairman Roger Hertog last night at the Pierre, raising $3.1 million. Guests included hedge-fund manager Dan Loeb of Third Point LLC, Byron Wien and John Studzinski of Blackstone, and Harvard University history professor Niall Ferguson.
Hertog, who has lured many people in finance to the board of the society, said the connection between finance and history “is logical: most of the people in finance really have to learn about the past, whether you’re studying monetary policy, taxation, or understanding different companies. You need to have a respect for what happened before.”
David Petraeus, chairman of the KKR Global Institute and the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, was also honored.
“He has demonstrated in his own actions the impact of knowing history and studying history,” said Louise Mirrer, CEO of the New-York Historical Society.
Proceeds from the gala will be used to support the society’s education programs for schoolchildren.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)