The Wexner Foundation develops and inspires leaders in the North American Jewish Community and the State of Israel. Through diverse, cohort-based educational programs, the Foundation invests in promising professionals and volunteers and gives them tools to exercise transformative leadership.
Working in partnership with other foundations, philanthropists and communities, the Foundation strengthens North American Jewish life and Israel’s public sector by making their leaders more skilled, visionary and collaborative.
For 35 years, The Wexner Foundation has never wavered from its focus on leadership in the Jewish world and Israel. The Foundation’s professionalism, standards of 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.
We strive to pursue all aspects of our work with integrity, transparency and excellence. The values outlined here are qualities we aspire to express in our own exercising of leadership as well as cultivate in all of our Wexner Alumni, Fellows and Members. While this list is not by any means exhaustive, it represents a set of values that characterize the spirit we bring to both our learning of Torah and our study of leadership.
Kol yisrael arevim ze b’zeh…All Israel, our sages insist, is responsible, one for the other.
We stretch Wexner circles across different expressions of Jewish life in North America and across the spectrum of Israel’s citizens. The Foundation’s methodology of developing leaders relies on building diverse cohorts of talented individuals who develop unique bonds. We count on our cohorts to honor each other’s truth without eroding the importance and vitality of their own. In a circle of Wexner learners, participants strengthen and sharpen one another’s leadership agenda. Abiding by established rules of engagement, Wexner participants are expected to conduct civil discourse across differences. Giving others the benefit of the doubt as to their sincerity and integrity forms the baseline of healthy relationships and enables the building of effective and enduring teams. We are responsible for one another.
We value emotional intelligence, binat ha’lev, a heart of understanding.
The midrash teaches that the heart holds over 60 emotions. It sees, hears, speaks, stands, rejoices, weeps and comforts. Emotional intelligence is measured by an intentional effort to be self-aware, to master reflective practice, to demonstrate the capacity to listen, to manage our own desires, to face our fears and biases, to be open with our vulnerabilities, and to be attentive to the full range of the heart itself. An understanding heart must be intentionally cultivated and requires regular, even daily practice.
Practice patience. Savlanut.
Communal change is not sudden. Silver bullet, quick-fix thinking tends to oversimplify the reality that to move forward we need to be active on dozens and dozens of fronts. Patience paves the way to a discovery of what will advance our communities. Persistence is required to reveal our passions and to connect those passions to purpose. Patience calls on us to go slow to go fast. Savlanut is an essential value during the sometimes-long hours, the drawn-out processes of decisive action.
“It is not necessary to be afraid of greatness because it inspires us to do great things. But, he cautions, invest much effort in clinging to humility so that the greatness to which we aspire is for a holy purpose.”
– Rav Kook
Building a foundation of humility.
We seek to cultivate humility in Wexner leaders. Humility pushes open wide the gateway to new learning. It facilitates listening and the ability to self-coach. In a humble stance, we embrace our shortcomings and learn of our blind spots. The path to meaningful collaboration, necessary for a vibrant Jewish future, is built on a foundation of humility. Making room for others, knowing when to speak more/speak less, and when to say nothing is paramount to the effective exercising of leadership.
“…hafoch ba v’hafoch ba, turn it and turn it again for everything is in it.”
When Ben Bag Bag tells us to keep turning the pages of Torah over and over again, he is teaching us ceaseless curiosity. He is telling us to ask more and more questions. Current organizational perimeters make us comfortable and lull us to be overly cautious, rather than wondering what else could be. We habitually argue for “what we always have been” over energized tinkering and playful conversation about “what might we become?” To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.”
“A person in a joyful mood can learn more in an hour than a somber person can in many hours.”
– Ruach Chaim
Humor is necessary in pursuing our mightily important work. Simcha, joy, is essential to leading, sometimes even during seasons of despair. Laughter fuels our energy…leadership, though a serious undertaking, should also be fun, playful and joyous. Leading should be uplifting, fulfilling, and not diminishing the light of the neshama, our spirit and soul.
We fill our kosot kiddush, our wine cups, to the very top every Shabbos. It is a siman bracha, a sign that we are pursuing lives of full blessing.
Leaders must hold up high the promise of a brighter future. Belief in a better future makes the possibility of that future all the more probable. The pessimist accepts the world as it is, rather than seeing how the world ought to be. Our optimism is inevitably eroded by nightmarish cycles of ugliness and division, yet we cling to optimism. Each week, when we allow the dust of the prior six days to settle, we, again, fill our kosot kiddush to the brim. The cup is full and over and over we repeat: l’chaim. To life.
Wexner Value: EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
The heart is the living, beating center of who we are. It brings resources, fresh energy and renewed life to all parts of our body as it helps move that which no longer serves us out of our system. The understanding of the heart is different from the knowledge contained in our mind. The heart knows that all parts – no matter how distant from it they might seem – are connected to the greater whole; that in every moment there is the possibility of release and renewal; that the life force courses through us powerfully every moment of our lives, whether we are conscious of it or not. “I am asleep but my heart is awake” says the Song of Songs. Through the intensity and challenge, our heart is the part of us that remains open and ever-full of love, able to remind us of these truths that undergird all life. May we be blessed to know, to appreciate and to live from binat ha lev, the unique and vital understanding of our heart
Wexner Value: PATIENCE
Waiting with surrender.
Planting seeds and letting them grow in their time.
Letting the unexpected spring forth from our core.
Honoring the work hidden beneath the surface, the root structure that holds steady.
Presence with what is and with the passage of time.
Trusting the flowers will survive the starlight, will stand there, still, when morning returns.
Openness to the unknowable particulars of unfurling, of new potential that will rain back on the earth, falling seeds volunteering new growth.
Layered soil, cracked skin of ground, bursting seeds, resting sky, steady sun, thin stems, bright green leaves, and first flowers – teach us to witness.
Wexner Value: JOY
In Hebrew there are many words to express joy, gladness, happiness, etc. We bless a couple with these terms at a wedding in the very last of the Sheva Brachot/seven blessings. There is a teaching that Simcha is basic happiness, Geela is when we smile, Rinah is when we sing and Sasson is when we are so filled with joy we have to actually get up and dance. Shalom is a basic sense of peace and contentment. It is said in the final line of the priestly blessing to affirm that if we don’t have peace- all other blessings are inconsequential. These are the Hebrew words that dance around the images on the page.
The Hebrew letters contain energy. A midrash states that the letters were the building blocks of the world and each letter has its own vibration and meaning. A hand reaches out and holds a hamsa, a symbol of luck and protection and safety. We are content – at peace when we are safe. A heart symbolizes the connection of love between people- also a happy emotion. The Torah is the central body of wisdom, stories and law that unifies our people. On this picture it represents the joy of Torah study, l’shaym shamayim for the sake of heaven- the pure pleasure of study. Rainbows, bright colors, these bring joy as well.
Wexner Value: HUMILITY
One of the big questions about humility is, “How do we find our space?” Our humility guides us both to help us know when to shine, and when to step back to let others have a turn. This dance between stepping up and stepping back ideally creates a more perfect whole where different people, personalities and ideas are able to come to the surface. This piece, The Layers of Space, represents that dance. There is positive space and negative space; many pieces are placed on top of others. The final design only exists due to layers building upon themselves over time. Each piece can be seen and has a purpose within the larger context. Together, the composition creates a sense of movement and wholeness through the variety of shape, color, and layers. Where do you find yourself in this piece? Do you see yourself in the foreground, in the background? What color are you? Why do you think that? How do your answers help you to reflect upon where your humility lies?
Wexner Value: OPTIMISM
For this particular work, I painted imagery of cups overflowing to reference the Jewish practice of pouring kiddush wine to overflow the rim of the cup. I also used imagery of links of a chain and leaves. By using chains dipped in paint to create varied texture on the canvas, I recall our relationships with our ancestors. The leaves call to mind the brilliant colors that fade to brown as fall turns to winter, only with the faith and optimism that they will return to their former splendor.
Wexner Value: CURIOSITY
One doesn’t need to move much for the world and our lives in it to become curious. We can’t help wandering and getting lost even when little has changed. To exist is to be a stranger in a strange land, though stranger still is that we often forget it. What is most curious is that curiosity could be a virtue we intentionally cultivate or a vice we intentionally avoid, when, whether we like it or not, our minds and hearts have already strayed long before we can catch up with them. My poem prayer is a curious attempt to be curious about curiosity as both a religious virtue (prayer, yearning), a religious vice (distraction), and an inexhaustible reality that renews our readings as of old.
Wexner Value: DIVERSITY
The value of Diversity speaks to my curiosity and soul– how do we build community and connect with others while authentically making space for difference? The concept of Sonder, which I learnt in a coaching training a few months back, touched me deeply. This is how we bear the paradox– the beautiful reality that we are each so different and yet, we are so inextricably bound in a common fabric of humanity, so much alike, and that ultimately– we need one another. And in my time as a member of Class 1 of Wexner Field Fellowship and the years since, I felt exactly that– this deep, penetrating bond with my fellows that exists beyond all the difference we hold, yet that glaring truth that our bonds are only richer, and we continue to learn from and love another, because we are each so unique.