The Wexner Foundation focuses on the development of Jewish professional and volunteer leaders in North America and public leaders in Israel. Founded by Leslie Wexner, CEO of Limited Brands and his wife, Abigail Wexner the headquarters are located in New Albany, Ohio with additional offices in New York City and in Jerusalem. In addition to the core leadership programs, the Wexner Foundation supports other Jewish charities on a local, national, and international level.
In the early 1980s Leslie Wexner, CEO of Limited Brands reached the conclusion that what the Jewish community and Israel needed most was stronger leaders. When established Jewish organizations showed relatively little interest in investing in the development of leaders, Les decided to take up the mission with his private philanthropy.
Originally Les founded two separate organizations to pursue this mission: The Wexner Heritage Foundation created the Wexner Heritage Program to strengthen volunteer leaders; and the Wexner Foundation created the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, for emerging professional Jewish leaders, and the Wexner Israel Fellowship, for mid-career Israeli public officials. In the 1990s Abigail Wexner joined Les in charting the Wexner philanthropic vision in their roles as chairmen. In 2003 the two foundations merged, and since then The Wexner Foundation has run all three programs as a unified organization under Abigail and Les's leadership. The Foundation has also added new programs to expand upon its mission of strengthening Jewish leaders. Since 2013 The Wexner Foundation has launched four additional programs: Wexner Service Corps (2013), Wexner Field Fellowship (2013), Wexner Senior Leaders (2014) and The Wexner Summits (2015).
The first of The Foundation's core programs was founded in 1985. Leslie Wexner and Rabbi Herbert A. Friedman, the former CEO of the National United Jewish Appeal, established the Wexner Heritage Program. This program's mission statement, according to the Wexner Foundation website, is "to educate Jewish communal leaders in the history, thought, traditions and contemporary challenges of the Jewish people."
In 1988, the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program was founded by the Wexner Foundation. It awards scholarships to 20 exceptional individuals in North America who wish to obtain degrees in Jewish education, Jewish leadership, rabbinical studies, or cantorate studies. The mission for this program, according to the Wexner Foundation website, is to "to encourage promising candidates to successfully meet the challenges of professional Jewish leadership in the North American Jewish community."
The Wexner Israel Fellowship Program was created in 1989. It is a partnership between the Wexner Foundation and Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. The program annually selects up to 10 Israeli public officials and/or nonprofit leaders to participate in leadership seminars while they pursue a mid-career Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree at the Kennedy School. The goal of this program, according to the Wexner Foundation website, is "to provide Israel's next generation of public leaders with advanced training in public management and leadership development, thus enhancing the quality of democracy and the institutional vitality of Israel's public sector."
The Wexner Foundation headquarters are located in New Albany, Ohio. Smaller Wexner Foundation offices can be found in New York City and Israel. The president of the Wexner Foundation is Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson.
Core leadership programs
The Wexner Foundation consists of seven core leadership programs: Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Wexner Israel Fellowship, Wexner Heritage Program, Wexner Field Fellowship, Wexner Senior Leaders, Wexner Service Corps and The Wexner Summits.
The Wexner Heritage Program (1985) was designed to provide young North American Jewish volunteer leaders with a two-year intensive Jewish learning program, deepening their understanding of Jewish history, values, and texts and enriching their leadership skills. By the end of 2013, over 1800 North American Jewish leaders from 33 cities will have participated in the program.
The Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program (1988) was created for outstanding rabbinical students and graduate students in Jewish education and Jewish communal service programs. In its early years, the Foundation established a grants program for academic institutions of all types to build and improve training programs for Jewish community professionals. Eventually, the Fellowship Program was expanded to include top candidates for academic Jewish studies and the cantorate. By the end of 2013, over 450 outstanding Jewish professional leaders from a wide array of religious affiliations and professional groupings will have participated in the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program.
The Wexner Israel Fellowship Program (1989) annually selects up to 10 outstanding mid-career Israeli public officials to study for a master's degree in the mid-career program of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The goal of the fellowship is to provide Israel's next generation of public leaders with advanced leadership and public management training. By the end of 2013, 225 Israeli public officials will have participated in the Israel Fellowship, including leaders who have gone on to become Directors General of government ministries, Generals and Commanders in the Israeli military, and top advisors to Prime Ministers.
The Wexner Service Corps (2013) is a program designed to inspire and unite Columbus-area Jewish teens to engage in service learning. The Service Corps is open to high school juniors and seniors to participate in a week-long service trip followed by a year of monthly volunteering and Jewish learning. A select group of Corps members can return for a second year to join the Senior Leadership Cohort (SLC). The Service Corps launched in June 2013 with an inaugural service trip to New York and has since served in New Orleans (2014) and Detroit (2015) with 40 teens on each trip. Columbus Jewish teens have cumulatively put in thousands of service hours into serving both the Columbus community and the communities it visits. The Wexner Service Corps was inspired by Hannah Wexner and the mantle was taken up by her sister Sarah.
The Wexner Field Fellowship (2013) is a special opportunity to grow as a Jewish professional, deepen your leadership skills and develop a rich network of colleagues to support your career. Wexner Field Fellows Program in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation to provide opportunities for professional growth to promising Jewish professionals who plan to continue to pursue a career as a professional leader in the North American Jewish community.
The Wexner Senior Leaders (2015), is an executive model leadership initiative, aspires to leverage The Wexner Foundation's long established partnerships with the Israeli Government and Harvard University, with the goal of strengthening Israel's public service leadership. The program aims to strengthen skills and design strategies for leading transformative change, acquiring new tools for better decision making, and developing strategies to be employed by some of Israel's most promising and influential senior leaders in the public sector. The program prepares a select cohort each year to exercise collaborative leadership within and across organizations and sectors.
The Wexner Summits provide a space for Alumni and Network Members to work together to identify common goals and values. Commitments and work that emerge from the Summits aim to strengthen our individual and collective efforts with a goal to provide answers for controversial issue in the Jewish world.
Other philanthropies that the Wexner Foundation supports
The Wexner Foundation also donates funds to other charities. The Foundation specifically donates to Jewish charities in Central Ohio. However, it does contribute money to United States and Israeli charities.
Central Ohio philanthropies supported by the Wexner Foundation
- Columbus Jewish Federation
- Columbus Jewish Foundation
- Wexner Jewish Student Center of Ohio State University
- Wexner Heritage Village
- Columbus Torah Academy
- Columbus Jewish Day School
- Leo Yassenoff Jewish Community Center
- United Way of America campaign
- Wexner Institute for Pediatric Research at Children's Hospital
- Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University
- Foundation for Jewish Camp
United States philanthropies supported by the Wexner Foundation
- Birthright Israel
- Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE)
- Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
- Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA)
- all major rabbinical seminaries
- Brandeis University
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Israel philanthropies supported by the Wexner Foundation
Alumni of the Wexner Foundation programs
Many alumni of the Wexner Foundation's core leadership programs are successful and influential Jewish people in modern society.
- Yossi Abramowitz has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the former Soviet Union. He was a keynote speaker in the Human Rights Conference in Russia. Currently, Yossi and his daughter are working on Worldmanna.org, an organization created to reduce world hunger.
- Robin S. Axelrod is a clinical professor of Judaic Studies and social work at the University of Michigan. She is developing programs for Jewish leadership training with the help from the Ross School of Business and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. She frequently teaches seminars around the Midwest about recent issues in Jewish communities.
- Lila Corwin Berman PhD is writing a book entitled Jewish Missionaries: How Jews Presented Themselves to America. It discusses how American Jewish people understand their identity. She is a Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Young Historian, an award given by the Center for Jewish History.
- Shira Reifman is the executive director of the Jewish Student Union, which is an organization that strives to enhance Jewish culture in public schools.
- Ohad Marani currently serves as the director general of the Israel Ministry of Finance. He helps create the economic policies of Israel. Previously, Yossi served in Washington D.C. as the Minister of Economic Affairs at the Israel Embassy. He worked on creating aid for Israel from the United States.
- Dr. Yair Birnbaum is the director of the Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital in Israel. He is a board certified pediatrician and an ordained Orthodox rabbi.
- Leslie Wexner
- Limited Brands
- Wexner Center for the Arts
- Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership
- "Wexner Heritage Program". Retrieved Jan. 26, 2011
- "Wexner Graduate Fellows/Davidson Scholars". Retrieved Jan.26, 2011
- "Wexner Israel Fellowship". Retrieved Jan.26, 2011