The UJA Wall Street 2015 Dinner

Honoree Steve Tananbaum and Raul Alarcon
(All photos: Lieba Nesis)

The UJA held its annual Wall Street Dinner on December 7th at the Hilton New York to celebrate its 40th Anniversary. This year, for the first time, the dinner was sold-out weeks in advance with over 1,900 attending. When I arrived at the Hilton I was overwhelmed by the number of Jewish men in suits and my wool white dress proved too hot for the vast crowds.

Honoree Andrew Rechtschaffen and daughter

The excitement at the event was palpable with all the “wolves” arriving at the early hour of 5pm to partake in the hors d’ouevres/dinner portion of the night. The honorees of the evening were Andrew Rechtschaffen of Greenlight Capital and Steve Tananbaum, Managing Partner of GoldenTree Asset Management. The fraternizing among the Wall Street “in” group was boisterous, with hordes of men gathering to discuss the latest happenings in business and current events. The crowd contained legends including: Michael Milken, John Paulson, Jerry Levin, Leon Wagner, and many others. Amidst all these unfamiliar faces

Alexandra Lebenthal

I spotted one of the few hotshot Wall Street women at the dinner, Alexandra Lebenthal, in a silk red Giambattista Valli dress that she just purchased on sale from the online site Alexandra has been coming to this dinner for years and always appears on the dais with dozens of men. However, three years ago she objected to the paltry three women on stage and this year, at her insistence, there were twelve women represented. Kudos to Alexandra for standing up for women’s rights in the financial arena, which is still largely dominated by men.

Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat and Lindsey Graham

Nevertheless, this dinner is a tremendous opportunity for those with means to give back to the less fortunate raising the record breaking sum of $27 million. Another great thing about this night is the concentration of intellectuals after much of society has been dumbed down-a-phenomena I call the “Kardashian effect.” One of those unafraid to speak his mind was Senator Lindsey Graham who I happened to bump into and was anxious to tell me “Donald Trump was an idiot” and that he [Graham] always stands up for the oppressed Jews. When I asked Graham who he would support in the election he said, “me I am running and I like me enough.”

CEO UJA Eric Goldstein and Jerry Levin

At 6:30PM on the dot -this was a Wall Street event- the crowd headed to the ballroom for dinner and speeches. When I arrived at my table I was wondering why there was dessert at my seat instead of an appetizer or salad. I soon realized the smorgasbord was really a buffet dinner and the only thing to be eaten for the next two hours were some dismal looking pastries.After this unfortunate realization, the night started with the lighting of the menorah and a speech by UJA CEO, Eric Goldstein, applauding UJA for saving the lives of many and making the world a better place. We were then introduced to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who urged the crowd, whom he referred to as “shareholders of our city,” to visit Jerusalem.

Michael Milken and Alexandra Lebenthal

After these perfunctory speeches, it was time for a serious oration and who better to deliver it then financial whiz Michael Milken. I knew Milken meant business when he had a chart and visual aids to accompany his dialogue – this man is the ultimate perfectionist. His erudite words touched on so many complex issues that it was one of those “moments” I rarely experience. When he started his presentation, he said he remembered standing at this dinner forty years ago and how special it was to be speaking now. He then went on to discuss his past as a Berkeley Math and Physics major who wanted to go up to space but instead went down to Wall Street-it is more lucrative than space.

 Jerry Levin, Lindsey Graham, and Mark Medin

He said freedom of speech is a pivotal issue today in the same way it was in the 60’s and is continually being violated as evidenced by the disruption of Michael Oren’s speech at the University of California in 2010. Then he recounted his desire to join Wall Street in the 70’s to effectuate change in the flow of capital-a successfully accomplished mission. He also mused on the introduction of fashion branding by Calvin Klein and Barry Schwartz who started the clothing company Calvin Klein with just $10,000 in the 70’s.

He spoke about the increase in life expectancy, the desire of Jewish immigrants in Poland to start companies such as Comcast and Viacom in the United States, and how it was our job to aid in “Tikkun Olam”-fixing the world. While Israel remains less than 5% of the Middle Eastern population it is responsible for more than 22% of the Middle East Economy-a circumstance he attributes to its incredible “social capital.” He then stated that 36% of Noble Prize recipients were Jewish and that we have a covenant with the world to improve it.

Dining room

The room of almost 2,000 people were completely silent during the entirety of his speech and he received a well deserved standing ovation. The next couple of speeches were less esoteric with Andrew Rechtschaffen receiving the Young Leadership Award and thanking his boss David Einhorn while joking he wasn’t doing so because it was December-bonus time. Rechtschaffen delved into the dynamics behind the compulsion of Jews to give an abundance of charity- ultimately concluding its because we care about, “the past, present and future.”

The last speaker of the evening, Steve Tananbaum, who received the Gustave Levy Award and manages more than $25 billion at GoldenTree Management spoke of his commitment to Israel and love for his family. When I asked him who designed his suit he said he had no clue but was wearing his “lucky tie.” Tananbaum also said his favorite speech of the night was Milken’s because of his interesting use of statistics.

At the conclusion of the dinner the guests headed to a closing bell after-party in the Hilton comprised of blackjack tables and food stations.  Playing roulette against some of Wall Street’s biggest hotshots is one activity I was not interested in partaking in-and so I headed back to my apartment to catch the ending of “Supergirl” a comforting panacea to the testosterone driven evening.

– Lieba Nesis

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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