Last week Leslie and Abigail Wexner, Chairmen of The Wexner Foundation, joined us in Israel for a special evening to celebrate 30 years of the Wexner Fellowship in Israel — a moving tribute to Les and Abigail and deeply significant for all of us here in Israel who consider ourselves part of the “Wexner family”. Together with Wexner Heritage Members from North America who were here for their Summer Institute, and other alumni from all programs, more than 500 people gathered for a splendid outdoor evening.
In addition to celebrating and getting to know Heritage Members from N America, it was an exceptional and moving opportunity to present and describe some of the major achievements of Wexner Israel Fellowship alumni, to discover commonalities among our various alumni initiatives and to encourage our further engagement. Rabbi Elka Abrahamson, our President, best expressed the mood felt by everyone: it was a unique assembly of dedicated public professionals, and especially an expression of close friendship and gratitude on behalf of Israeli society to pay tribute to the work, shared vision, achievements and powerful impact of this unique community created by the vision and support of Leslie and Abigail. The Wexner Israel Fellowship and our newer executive program Wexner Senior Leaders have resulted in society-changing collaborations — from civil rights and watch dog organizations to economic development to geo-political strategy, from environmental protection to education reform and, of course, security — and when we could take stock of them all in one place, it made a powerful statement; there could be no more rewarding tribute to Les and Abigail, I think, than the effectiveness and continued determination they have instilled in us through The Wexner Foundation.
As expressed by Les, by the evening’s speakers, and also felt by all of us sitting together, this Wexner visit to Israel, and this unique gathering, demonstrated the centrality of Israel in Leslie and Abigail’s life, of their joint commitment to the State and society of Israel and of the quantitative impact of some 400 Israeli public leaders who, in no small part thanks to them, affect daily life here.
After 30 years of leadership in planning and realizing leadership programs, Leslie spoke about the dividends: pursuing and achieving Tikun Olam through encouraging public and community leaders to serve their society by being the best possible leaders they could be. “This is only the end of the beginning,” said Leslie, challenging us with his usual optimism and tireless energy, already envisioning the continued and increasing impact that the alumni community and future Wexner cohorts could have on civil society in Israel.
Eli Groner, General-Director of the Prime Minister’s office, and alumni speakers also described only a small part of our efforts, projects and achievements working to improve the lives of Jewish and Arab communities in Israel.
For us as “Wexners,” this evening was an empowering moment: listening and talking to Leslie and Abigail describing and discussing some of our accomplishments and plans, the challenges in Israeli society to which they are deeply committed, receiving their feedback and feeling their pride in us as Wexner alums was a gratifying and moving experience. Seeing how much Leslie and Abigail care about and are involved with the people here who are doing the work and with the people in Israel who will benefit from this work made us doubly committed to being involved in Israel’s problems and dreams.
The tribute to Les and Abigail took place as Israel’s Wexner Alumni met for their annual summer conference, this time to examine our vision for the future of Israeli society 50 years after the Six Day War, the war that irrevocably altered Israel’s geographic, demographic, social, security, legal and political climate. Guest speakers at the conference, who raised complex issues and challenges for the future included Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked and Knesset members Yossi Beilin and Tzippy Livni, a well as military experts Yakov Amidror and Moshe Elad.
Against this background, the conference was an excellent opportunity to discuss the broad scope of individual and collective impact of Israeli Wexner alums in Israel’s public sector, with a view towards future initiatives and collaboration.
But beyond the work and programs, only a small part of which could be presented during the evening of tribute to Leslie and Abigail, Barak Loozon, an Israel Wexner alum (Class 21), said it best when I asked him for his thoughts: “Leslie and Abigail chose a crucial time to come, to be in Israel, a time which is important both to American and Israeli Jewish communities who are together and separately writing the story of Zionism and of engagement in Jewish life — both here in Israel and in the Diaspora. The “Wexner” professional family is the best platform for both communities to work hard to improve lives of our citizens, and to author our next chapter.”
BRENDA MORGINSTIN, a Wexner Israel Fellow (Class 4), was the Director of the Division for Service Development at Israel’s National Insurance Institute, where she also previously directed the Division of Research and Planning in Long Term Benefits. In her previous position she was responsible for developing programs for promoting social integration, employment and rehabilitation services aimed at expanding opportunities for populations at risk, such as children and adults with disabilities, the elderly, children and families at risk. Currently, Brenda is a private consultant for social service development and management, especially for the elderly and disabled. Brenda can be reached at email@example.com.