On The Avenue

UJA Celebrates 100 Years of Mitzvahs

by Ben Diamond Photographed by Michael Priest Photography
Friday, April 7, 2017
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The UJA-Federation celebrated its one hundredth anniversary at Skylight Clarkson Square last night. It's not every day that a charity group turns 100, and UJA did it with a loving, lavish tribute to Jewish culture. Buffet stations and platter-carrying waiters offered every kind of Jewish food imaginable—among them lox and cream cheese, falafel and, of course, beef potstickers. (There's really nothing more Jewish than Chinese food). Performers drew caricatures and wrote Jewish-themed haikus for guests. Sections of Skylight Clarkson Square’s massive space spotlighted UJA’s different efforts, including a clubby "Tel Aviv" representing aid to Israel, a flower-adorned sukkah symbolizing sheltering the homeless and a pyramid made of 3,000 matzah boxes representing hunger relief. And there was room for a little gentile fun, too—guests were also treated to performances by Valerie Simpson and Gavin DeGraw.


But guests never lost sight of why they were there. "If any organization survives for a century, they've got to be doing something right," said former Bloomberg CEO and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff.


Others agreed. "A lot of people have done a lot of pretty great things over the past 100 years, things that enable us to do great things for the next 100 too," said Rob Kapito, founder of Black Rock and UJA board chairman.


Over 1,200 guests attended the centennial, including David L. Moore, Richard J. Mack, Jeffrey M. Solomon, Brett and Natalie Barth, Jeffrey A. Schoenfeld, Saul Burian, Ricki Shenfeld, Jonathan Ehrlich and Lexi Milstein. But what united them all was their intense devotion to UJA. Everyone’s voice swelled with emotion when talking about the organization. Since its founding in 1917, UJA has operated as an umbrella charity, giving funds to non-profits big and small, benefiting Jews and non-Jews alike. For every dollar that it has given to well-known causes like relief after Hurricane Katrina, the charity has also given to less-known organizations like the Hebrew Free Burial Society, a group that provides impoverished Jews with proper Jewish burials.


"We all take responsibility for each other," said UJA president Jeffrey A. Schoenfeld. "We've been doing it for 100 years, and we'll probably do it for another 100 years."


Or as my Haiku said:


"A tradition we


pass down through a century


welcome the stranger."

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by Ben DiamondPhotographed by Billy Farrall