Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- At the Jewish Museum’s Purim Ball, Anshu Jain, the Indian-born banker with a British passport who jointly runs Germany’s Deutsche Bank AG, began his remarks with “Shalom.”
Rob Kapito had handed him a kiddush cup, the ritual object used in the Jewish blessing over wine. “I look forward to raising it with you soon,” Jain said.
Jain’s presence as the honoree of the fund-raising event was a tribute to his personal and professional relationships with members of the Jewish community in New York. He began making those connections when he arrived in the city in the early 1980s, fresh out of business school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Kapito, the president of BlackRock Inc., met Jain in one of his earlier roles at the money manager. He was one of Jain’s first clients at Merrill Lynch more than 20 years ago. Kapito also serves as chairman of the Wall Street and Financial Services Division of the city’s largest Jewish philanthropy, the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York.
“Anshu embodies leadership and philanthropy in all aspects of his life,” Kapito said in his remarks. “The business world needs strong leaders to step up and instill a level of integrity back into the system, and Anshu has been a leader who has taken on this challenge and sees the future with great optimism.”
Kapito said it was fitting to honor Jain at an event celebrating a Jewish holiday, as the first Purim (which this year falls on March 15) was celebrated in the land of his birth.
The first words of the Purim story in the Book of Esther place the action in Hodu, which “according to most biblical commentators, is the biblical word for India,” Kapito said.
Jain’s ease at the event was the best proof of his kinship with his Jewish friends and clients. The mingling left him almost no time to sit for dinner (apparently the Jewish and Indian mothers who insist their children eat were not on duty last night).
Jain said that he identified with Jewish culture’s emphasis on family, education and tolerance, and said the Jewish understanding of the trials of being an immigrant was also a comfort when he arrived in New York. He became a foreigner in a new land again recently, moving to Frankfurt in June 2012 shortly after being named co-CEO of Deutsche Bank.
Helping the Jewish Museum specifically was fitting, because Deutsche Bank has supported museum exhibitions for 15 years, a relationship Jain gave credit to museum trustee Morris Offit for forging.
Coming together to raise money for a New York cultural institution was also a way for Jain to express his affection for New York, a city that “retains a very special place in our hearts,” he said, speaking of his wife and two children, who were present and were born in Manhattan. The family lived full-time there until 1995, and his children now attend college in the U.S.
Jacques Brand, CEO of Deutsche Bank’s North American unit, and a trustee of the Jewish Museum, had the most direct answer to the question of how Jain came to be honored: Brand asked him in person. “He was enthusiastic right away.”
The more than 1,000 guests in attendance included Boaz Weinstein, the hedge funder formerly of Deutsche Bank, and his sister Ilana Weinstein, an executive recruiter for hedge funds. Michael Steinhardt joined John Levin and Betty Levin for dinner (chicken over couscous, or cauliflower over couscous for the vegetarians like Jain.)
Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., was also present, as were BlackRock’s Richie Prager, Centerbridge Partners’ Jeff Aronson and Stacy Polley of Goldman Sachs.
The event raised more than $2.5 million, a record for the museum’s annual gala, said Robert Pruzan, the chairman of the museum and a co-founder of Centerview Partners.
Honoring someone outside the Jewish community fit the museum’s own priorities. Since 2011, when Claudia Gould arrived as director, the institution housed in a former mansion on upper Fifth Avenue has been refreshing its identity, aiming to attract new, younger audiences, different from its longtime base and engaged in New York’s art world.
The person selected to tell the story of Purim last night was Jessica Williams, a 24-year-old black correspondent for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Williams brought the tale to the present day, casting Jay-Z and Beyonce in the roles of Ahasuerus and Vashti, and advancing the plot with Twitter and Facebook posts.
The fund-raising events “are a branding platform,” said Debi Wisch, a trustee of the museum who runs a jewelry business. “You don’t want people to go to something because they feel they have to. You want them to go because it’s fun.”
The decor was witty (though perhaps a bit too reminiscent of an American Apparel shop window), consisting of T-shirts arranged in a rainbow spectrum hanging in wall formations and above the tables.
Jain addressed the guests while standing in front of yellow T-shirts with the slogan “Body by Hamentaschen,” a reference to the cookie traditionally served on Purim and included on diners’ dessert plates. Attendees were offered a white version of the T-shirt to take home, size large.
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