Hey anti-Semites, take that! (or… in praise of Jewish banker)

I’ve been hearing from plenty of people in recent months about their fears that the Wall Street/banking meltdown is going to be bad for the Jews in a big way. So hopefully all those inclinded to think along such lines enjoyed a rare moment of relief last night during President Obama’s speech, when he highlighted the $60 million act of generosity of a … Jewish banker:

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times.  It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans.  For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him.  He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ”I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old.  I didn’t feel right getting the money myself."

According to the bio up at City National Bank, Abess is a board member of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and the Anti-Defamation League.

Here’s the blurb at Whitehouse.gov:

Leonard Abess Jr., CEO, City National Bank of Florida (Miami, FL)
Abess Jr. is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of City National Bank of Florida, now a subsidiary of Caja Madrid. Abess Jr. started his career in the bank’s print shop, which made forms and documents. Working his way up the ladder gave him an appreciation for the role that employees play in the success of an enterprise. He is currently serving a three-year term as Miami Branch Director of the Federal Reserve. On February 4, 2009 the President announced new restrictions on executive compensation. In the midst of our current financial crisis, limitations on executive pay are designed to ensure fiscal responsibility as we work to strengthen our economy by stabilizing our financial system. Abess Jr. demonstrated this sort of responsibility last November when he decided to quietly share some $60 million of the proceeds he received from the sale of City National shares to Caja Madrid with current and former front-line bank employees.

And in case you need a few more sheps of nachos (courtesy of the Miami Herald)…

Abess didn’t publicize what he had done. He didn’t even show up at the bank to bask in his employees’ gratitude on the day the bonus envelopes were distributed. He was inundated with letters soon afterward.

Asked later what motivated him, Abess said he had long dreamed of a way to reward employees. He had been thinking of creating an employee stock option plan before he decided to sell the bank.

”Those people who joined me and stayed with me at the bank with no promise of equity — I always thought some day I’m going to surprise them,” he said. “I sure as heck don’t need [the money].”

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