Leaving Wall Street
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Leaving Wall Street

Leaving Wall Street

Born to great wealth, Roy Neuberger spent his youth and early adulthood in a frustrating search for meaning in life. Until he began to explore Judaism's spiritual life.

by Cal Mankowski

Roy R. Neuberger made a name for himself as a legendary investor in value stocks and a keen observer of the market. But for his son and namesake, Roy S. Neuberger, the path to personal fulfillment has led him far from the world of high finance.

Instead of Wall Street, the son has made the spiritual life as an Orthodox Jew his primary focus. The younger Neuberger, age 58, tells his unusual life story in "From Central Park to Sinai/How I Found My Jewish Soul," recently published by Jonathan David Publishers Inc. of Middle Village, N.Y.

Born to great wealth, Neuberger spent his youth and early adulthood in a frustrating search for meaning in life. When he finally realized the answer for him was to make a commitment to the Jewish religion, he was not simply returning to the faith he knew as a boy. He was raised by his parents in a totally assimilated world with no Jewish tradition, no attendance at services and no religious studies.

"They raised me with an ethical intelligence, a conscience. They taught us to be good-hearted and generous," Neuberger said in a recent interview. "I think it's those qualities which caused me to look beyond my former lifestyle for a better way of life."

His father, now 97 years old, still resides in New York City and although officially retired, goes to his office at Neuberger Berman Inc. every day to trade for his own account. Some of his musings on investing still appear on the firm's Web site.

The father's life also took some unusual twists. He gave up a promising career in retailing in New York to pursue life as an artist in Paris. But after four years, he realized art was not his greatest talent.

Returning to New York, he and some partners started a firm to manage money for wealthy individuals in 1939. In 1950 he introduced one of the first value-style mutual funds, offered to the public with no front-end sales load.

Known as a nimble investor with a higher degree of skepticism about investment fads, the father confounded Wall Street in 1987 when he took a short position for a pension fund client. As the market raced higher that summer it looked like a major blunder. But the crash in October paid off handsomely for the client and only enhanced the reputation of Roy R. Neuberger.

"We were never raised with the idea we had to go into a specific business or into Wall Street."

His son concedes that he simply had no talent with numbers. At the same time, he was never under any family pressure to step into his father's shoes. "We were never raised with the idea we had to go in and make money, that we had to go into a specific business or into Wall Street."

As he tours the country today, Neuberger says, he has found people of all faiths rediscovering their religious roots, or discovering them for the first time. "I think it has something to do with the tremendous material success of the last decade," he said. "People feel a certain unease. 'What is life all about?' they ask. People are looking for spiritual answers."

Neuberger believes his book has struck a chord with many readers. One reason, he suggests, is that he does not aggressively push his views. He prefers instead to tell his story and let the reader draw his own conclusions. "I don't want to preach to anybody," he says. "I'm not telling anybody how to live."

Neuberger's anxiety led him to experiment with any number of religions.

As told in the book, Neuberger's anxiety that his life was falling apart and without any purpose led him in 1966 to experiment with any number of religions. In 1974, while he was running a small weekly newspaper in upstate New York, he visited a local synagogue.

There, he was introduced to Esther Jungreis, a rebbetzin, or rabbi's wife, who was gaining a reputation for inspiring lectures that were able to reawaken a sense of Jewish tradition.

In his book, Neuberger describes the meeting that led him and his wife, Leah, to change their lifestyle, sell their newspaper, relocate closer to Jungreis' headquarters in Brooklyn and immerse themselves in Bible studies and living the life of Orthodox Jews.

Realizing that he would have to have a regular income to pursue his new religious interest, he held a variety of jobs. First there was an editing job at a daily newspaper but it folded after a few years. Later, he worked as administrator at a religious school and for a real estate company.

From 1991 to 1998, with help from his father, he ran a small hedge fund that invested in stocks and commodities. Although he calls the fund's results "moderately successful" he adds, "I found out business is not my strong point." Since 1998, he has devoted himself to writing the book and lecturing about his experience in finding his religious roots.

As a youth, Neuberger says, he spent about six years seeing a psychiatrist. Based on his own personal experience, he has concluded that only religion gives meaning to life.

"I got the feeling after going to a psychiatrist that I was studying myself. It seemed like an endless maze. When I studied God and the Jewish way of life, I felt I was getting out of myself. I'm not looking for myself anymore. Now I'm looking for God and that was a freedom compared to this endless maze that was the case when I was going to the psychiatrist."

You can visit Roy Neuberger's website at: www.ToSinai.com

Copyright Reuters Limited 2001.

Published: November 3, 2001


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