Bankers Join Avenue Q Puppets at Jewish Philanthropy Centennial

  • UJA-Federation holds a kick-off for donors Och, Kapito, Barth
  • Dr. Ruth, comedian Nick Kroll and the Hebrew Mamita perform

The UJA-Federation of New York put on a show Monday night, 100 years and a day after investment banker Felix Warburg became its first president.

Talia and Henry Siegel, of Trivergance, with BlackRock’s Robert Kapito

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Current board leaders Robert Kapito, president of BlackRock, and Jeffrey Schoenfeld, a partner at Brown Brothers Harriman, kicked things off with a pre-taped skit placing them in a limousine hamming it up with the driver -- a puppet from Avenue Q.

The puppet tells about his search for a soul mate on PDate ("like JDate, but with more strings attached"). The passengers explain they are on the way to Jazz at Lincoln Center to mark a milestone, aping "Saturday Night Live" to exclaim, "Live from New York, It’s centennial night!"

More than a dozen live acts followed in a theater overlooking a snowy Central Park.

Dr. Ruth dispensed sex advice, pianist Emanuel Ax performed Chopin and Brian Stokes Mitchell sang "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha" as the finale.

Bryce Markus and Brett Barth

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Brett Barth’s favorite act was a Motown version of the Jewish prayer "Mi Chamocha," orchestrated by self-styled kosher-gospel musician Joshua Nelson.

"If my cantor wasn’t so good, I’d want this guy at my shul," Barth said at the dessert reception after the show, where he asked Bryce Markus how the start of his investment fund is going.

Marc and Alex Utay

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Before the show, Dan Och held court with some young admirers as Marc Utay arrived with his son Alex Utay, a member of the pop band East Love, which ought to play a UJA event. BlackRock’s Suzanne Peck was there with her dad and stepmom, Boaz Weinstein with his mom, sister and wife.

The evening dispensed with speechifying about UJA’s aid to people in need in New York, Israel and around the world, or money talk. (In 2015, it raised more than $150 million to fund programs in 70 countries.)

Instead, humor carried the evening.

Comedian Nick Kroll, whose show "Oh, Hello" is running on Broadway, said he grew up hearing about UJA’s work with Soviet Jews. "To be honest, I remember being in synagogue and being so confused as to why we were trying to help Russian Jewelry."

Marcia Riklis and Jeffrey Schoenfeld

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Spoken-word artist Vanessa Hidary performed "The Hebrew Mamita," exploring what it’s like to be told one doesn’t "look Jewish." Pure fun was the Chase Brock Experience dancing to a song about cats by the New Christy Minstrels, a 1960s folk group. Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza was especially warm and endearing, and Judy Gold especially funny and risque.

Actor Mark Feuerstein, the emcee, joked that his parents had to be satisfied with his playing a doctor on TV (in "Royal Pains").

Future events marking UJA’s centennial year may be more serious. An archive exhibition at the American Jewish Historical Society opens March 8. "The Bash" on April 6 will be a "birthday party with purpose," according to the teaser attached to a parcel of biscotti handed out as the party favor.

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