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Lawyers Division Honors Schwartz and Keller rss

Posted on: December 10th, 2010

Two New York attorneys, Jodi J. Schwartz and Stacey Berg Keller, were honored at UJA-Federation of New York’s annual event of the Lawyers Division December 9th for their charitable work.

More than 350 people attended the event at the Waldorf-Astoria that raised nearly $1.2 million for UJA-Federation’s annual campaign. Both the attendance and funds raised represent increases over last year’s event.

Schwartz and Keller, active in many parts of UJA-Federation, were praised for their tireless philanthropic work while also maintaining busy professional and family lives.

Schwartz received the Judge Joseph M. Proskauer Award. A partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz who focuses on tax matters, Schwartz is a member of UJA-Federation’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Presenting her award was Martin Lipton, founding partner at their law firm and himself a former winner of the Proskauer Award. “She is the glue of our firm,” he said.

“This is really a very humbling moment,” Schwartz said, reflecting on her path and the other people who have received the award since 1959. Remembering her first connection to UJA-Federation, when she was a young girl and her father was honored for his role in the Milk Division, she said her adult involvement in UJA-Federation grew out of a trip to visit a friend in Israel in the late 1980s. She met Ethiopian children who were without their parents but were being “treated with respect” and raised in Israel.

Schwartz was drawn to the issue of helping resettled Ethiopian Jews in Israel, and she has been one of the leaders of Birth to Bagrut, a joint educational initiative of UJA-Federation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) that celebrated its 10th anniversary this fall. Speaking of Ethiopian youths whose lives have been advanced through the program, Schwartz said, “I am filled with pride about their accomplishments and ours as a community. The work we do makes amazing things possible.”

“Bright Light”

Rabbi Michael Paley, UJA-Federation’s scholar-in-residence, presented Keller with the James H. Fogelson Emerging Leadership Award, calling her a “bright light” whose award was a fitting connection with Chanukah. Keller, an assistant general counsel at Citigroup specializing in intellectual property law, serves on UJA-Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Executive Committee, representing Emerging Leaders & Philanthropists and the Families Division.

Keller said her work in the Jewish world grew unexpectedly out of a UJA-Federation trip to Budapest and Prague. “UJA-Federation transformed me,” said Keller, who also thanked Schwartz — winner of the first Fogelson award in 1992 — “for being such a terrific role model and sharing this night with me.” Keller said the message to her fellow lawyers is: “You get out what you put in. Make time for UJA-Federation. As you watch how it transforms others, it might transform you too.”

The evening’s keynote speaker was Steven Schwager, executive vice president and CEO of the JDC, who spoke about his group’s work accomplished with funding from UJA-Federation. JDC operates in 70 countries around the world, most extensively in the former Soviet Union, where food, medicine, and other supplies go to 170,000 poor and elderly Jews. “Thanks to your help, we can get them above the poverty line,” he said.

In Israel, JDC works with thousands of the elderly, at-risk children and youth, and others in need. JDC’s worldwide programs also include such nonsectarian projects as its work in Haiti since the crippling earthquake in January. While thanking UJA-Federation for all its help, Schwager said, “There are huge, huge, huge unmet needs.”

Eric Seiler, chair of the Lawyers Division, praised the honorees and thanked those in the audience for their support. “UJA-Federation is there, helping Jews to form connections to one another, and to Israel,” Seiler said. “And it’s an organization that’s helping people in need: New Yorkers of all backgrounds and Jews around the world.”

Crowd to Its Feet

Seiler then asked people in the room to stand if they participated in various programs supported by UJA-Federation, such as Jewish community centers, Taglit-Birthright Israel, hospitals, and synagogues. Before long, hundreds in the room were standing, and Seiler said, “It’s not often that a speaker at a fundraising dinner gets to bring the crowd to its feet. We may now have a new appreciation for the kind of impact UJA-Federation is making every day.”

Seiler spoke at length about UJA-Federation’s Connect to Care initiative that has served more than 30,000 people hurt during the recession, offering a range of supportive counseling, employment services, and legal and financial consulting, among other services. He said, “UJA-Federation is also here for people who never dreamed they’d ever need help, people who up until recently thought they were doing well in life.”

For the third consecutive year, the Lawyers Division skipped having a main dinner course at the event, choosing instead to give the money that would have spent on their food “to feed people for whom a meal is far more meaningful — the impoverished men and women of New York,” said Seiler.