Hundreds in the region’s legal community came together Wednesday for UJA-Federation’s annual Judge Joseph M. Proskauer event, honoring two colleagues and raising $700,000 for the 2009 Annual Campaign.

“Particularly in these trying times, UJA-Federation offers a critical safety net,” said Eric S. Goldstein, general chair of UJA-Federation’s Lawyers Division. He called the two honorees “true leaders,” speaking about Joseph M. Proskauer Award winner Betsy Plevan, of Proskauer Rose, and James H. Fogelson Emerging Leadership Award winner Scott A. Edelman, of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

Edelman said he grew up on Long Island with a sense of family obligation to support UJA-Federation and that imperative has remained with him. He paid tribute to James H. Fogelson, a much-admired attorney for whom his award was named, as setting an example for him and many others. After quoting from Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address about service and giving, Edelman said, “My pledge tonight is to find ways in the very near future to make” UJA-Federation and Fogelson “proud.” Fogelson, who had been active in UJA-Federation and the city’s legal community, died in 1991.

Mel Immergut, chairman of the Milbank firm, presented Edelman with the award, calling him a “star partner” who is “super smart, generous, caring, and easy to be with.”

Plevan said it was a “special honor” to receive the award named for Proskauer, who joined her firm in 1930 and “transformed it.” Proskauer, she said, was “a public servant in every sense of the word.” She said, “In these times, our charitable nature, our commitment to tzedakah, will be tested,” and she urged people “to make the right choice,” not just by giving money but by aiding in other ways, such as helping those out of work find new jobs.

Allen Fagin, chairman of Proskauer Rose, praised Plevan for her “talent, intensity, and single-mindedness.” Plevan, an award-winning labor and employment lawyer, is a former president of the New York City Bar Association.
Judge Proskauer, who died in 1971, was a longtime leader in the Jewish community. He served as president of the New York Federation, a predecessor to the current UJA-Federation, from 1931 to 1935.

In addressing one of the themes of the evening at the Grand Hyatt New York, Goldstein said, “We’re facing one of the most challenging times in American history.” He said the need for services “will only increase,” and he encouraged people to “do all you can” for UJA-Federation’s annual campaign.

As in recent years, the 300 ticket buyers passed up having a formal dinner to help pay for food served at three organizations supported by UJA-Federation: Bronx Jewish Community Council, Jewish Community Council of Canarsie, and Selfhelp Community Services. Some of the lawyers will help serve meals to those in need on Thursday, January 29 in Manhattan.

A justice of Israel’s Supreme Court, Elyakim Rubinstein, was the evening’s guest speaker. Rubinstein, who before joining the court in 2004 led several rounds of Israeli peace negotiations with its Arab neighbors, spoke about the recent war against Hamas in Gaza: “We had no choice but to go to this war. It was a pure act of self-defense.” Rubinstein told of going to Sderot in southern Israel last year to shop for a new suit as a way to help the area’s economy. While he was in the store, he said he had to rush to a nearby shelter five times as rocket-warning sirens went off. Rubinstein said he was hopeful that the current cease-fire would hold up.