In the early 1980’s, Les Wexner reached the conclusion that what the North American Jewish community and the State of Israel needed most was stronger leadership. When established Jewish organizations showed relatively little interest in the development of leaders, Les decided to take up the mission, and The Wexner Foundation launched its own leadership initiatives.

Since those early days, The Wexner Foundation has been a pioneer in the field of Jewish private philanthropy, a field that has grown to include dozens of foundations that devote themselves on a national and international scale to the needs of the Jewish people.

In the last decade, the Foundation has actively pursued partnerships with communities, foundations, philanthropists, alumni, federations, and other stakeholders in our work.  The Wexner Foundation has never wavered from its focus upon Jewish leadership. The Foundation’s professionalism, standards of program excellence, and strong relationships with Jewish communities and organizations have created a model of practice for Jewish private philanthropy that has stood the test of time.

Our History & Milestones

From 1980 to Today

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    Two separate organizations were created to carry out the mission. The Wexner Heritage Foundation, co-founded by Rabbi Herbert Friedman z”l, was founded to strengthen volunteer leaders in the North American Jewish Community. The Wexner Foundation, co-founded by Rabbi Maurice Corson, was created for emerging professional Jewish leaders in North America and mid-career public officials in Israel.

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    Flagship Programs Launched

    The Foundation’s 3 original leadership initiatives emerged as a new model for serious leadership training in Jewish life and in Israel:

    The Wexner Heritage Program (1985) provides 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. More than 2,200 North American Jewish leaders from 35 cities have participated in the program.

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    The Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program (1988) strengthens rabbinical students and graduate students in Jewish education and Jewish communal service programs, as well as academic Jewish studies and the cantorate. 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. Nearly 600 outstanding Jewish professional leaders from a wide array of religious affiliations and professional groupings have participated in the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program.

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    The Wexner Israel Fellowship Program helps to support up to 10 outstanding Israeli public officials earning their Mid-Career Master of Public Administration (MC/MPA) at Harvard Kennedy School. The goal of the fellowship is to provide Israel’s next generation of public leaders with advanced leadership and public management training. More than 275 Israeli public officials 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 advisers to Prime Ministers.

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    1990-2011 Growth and Consolidation

    As the three flagship Wexner leadership programs expanded and deepened their impact, leadership transferred from its founding presidents to Larry Moses (The Wexner Foundation) and Rabbi Nathan Laufer (the Wexner Heritage Foundation).

    During this period, the Foundation began engaging in partnerships with communities and foundations that shared our commitment to invest in leaders for the Jewish world. The Wexner Heritage Program began co-investing with communities in 2000, and the William Davidson Foundation joined forces with The Wexner Foundation in 2005 to support the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars program.

    In 2003, the two separate Wexner organizations were unified as one entity encapsulating all three leadership initiatives: The Wexner Foundation, headquartered in New Albany, Ohio.

    2011-Present: Expansion and Diversification

    Under the leadership of Rabbi Elka Abrahamson, the Foundation has added four additional leadership initiatives, doubling down on existing populations and expanding into new areas of impact.

    The Wexner Field Fellowship (2013), was created in 2013 in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation to focus on developing promising Jewish professionals’ leadership skills while enveloping them in a rich network of colleagues. Through in-person, intensive conferences and virtual meetings, Wexner Field Fellows are exposed to Jewish educational and professional growth opportunities while addressing their unique needs of career progress.

    The Wexner Service Corps (2013) inspires and unites Columbus-area Jewish teens to engage in service learning. The Service Corps is open to high school juniors and seniors to participate in a year of monthly volunteering and Jewish learning culminating in a week-long service trip. A select group of Corps members can return for a second year to join the Senior Leadership Cohort (SLC). Columbus Jewish teens have cumulatively put in thousands of hours serving both the Columbus community and the cities it visits.

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    The Wexner Senior Leaders Program (2015) is an executive model leadership initiative that leverages the training and scholarship of Harvard University to strengthen Israel’s public service leadership and spur innovative, collaborative projects across government departments and agencies. The program aims to strengthen skills and design strategies for leading transformative change, acquiring new tools for better decision making, and developing strategies for some of Israel’s most promising and influential senior leaders in the public sector. More than 250 executives have taken part in the Senior Leaders program.

    In 2016, the Foundation launched Wexner Summits: The Network in Action. Summits offer platforms for select North American and Israeli alumni across five of our programs to engage in deep dialogue, learning, problem-solving and collaborative work. Allowing our network of leaders in the Israeli public sector and in both the professional and volunteer ranks of Jewish life in North America to leverage one another, Wexner Summits empower and mobilize a cadre of change agents who work in teams over the course of a year to address major challenges facing the Jewish people and Israel.