NEW YORK (JTA) — Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein recalled the role of his rabbi and Jewish organizations in helping him realize he could succeed despite growing up in a working-class neighborhood.
“The only person I knew who put on a suit everyday was our rabbi,” Blankfein told a crowd of 1,700 fellow Wall Street insiders and guests Monday night at a $26 million record-breaking fundraising dinner for UJA-Federation of New York.
“Growing up [in public housing in the East New York section of Brooklyn], every family I knew struggled.
I thought every Jewish father either drove a cab or worked in the post office. I didn’t know anyone whose father was a doctor, lawyer or other professional,” the Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO said upon receiving the Gustave L. Levy Award at the event at the Hilton New York.
“That may seem unreal to some of you, but I only knew what I could see. Today many of you may not know a Jewish family that is struggling, you don’t see them, but there are. There are thousands of families not more than three miles away from here.”
Blankfein credited his rabbi and his involvement in federation-funded afterschool programs and summer camp for helping him “to think about the world beyond East New York,” ultimately leading to his decision to attend college.
With a smile, he also credited the local Jewish Y with teaching him to swim and giving him a chance to earn spending money as a lifeguard.
“Benefactors I would never know, who I could never thank, from an earlier wave of Jewish immigration funded these organizations that were so meaningful to my friends and to me,” Blankfein said.
The evening, which UJA-Federation officials said topped last year’s total funds raised of $23 million, also featured remarks from the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Attendees gave two standing ovations for Alan “Ace” Greenberg, vice chairman emeritus of JP Morgan and a former Levy award winner, for his role in building Wall Street support for UJA-Federation.
David Wassong, the co-head of private equity at Soros Fund Management, was honored with The Wall Street Young Leadership Award.