COLUMBUS, Ohio (May. 21)
The Wexner Foundation, a $100 million family philanthropy headquartered here, has targeted what its chairman, Leslie Wexner, believes “is the most crucial issue in the Jewish community today”–the ability of important Jewish institutions to find, support and retain the highest quality professional leadership.
Wexner, 49, founder of the world’s largest retail apparel chain, announced this week that the Foundation will channel $3-$4 million in grants to the first year of a program dedicated to the enhancement and improvement of professional leadership in the North American Jewish community.
Wexner said an Advisory Group drawn from among leading Jewish academicians and communal professionals recommended that attention be focused on three critical groups: rabbis, communal professionals and educators. The Foundation’s program is designed to attract gifted men and women in the Jewish community to commit themselves to careers of professional service.
Rabbi Maurice Corson, president of the Wexner Foundation, observed that “Although American Jewry is, overall, healthy in socioeconomic terms, our most important institutions — our synagogues, our community centers, federations and educational institutions — desperately require adequate qualified professional leadership. The unparalleled economic opportunities now open to American Jews has resulted in a situation in which our most gifted sons and daughters are being attracted to professions elsewhere.”
‘I WONDER ABOUT THE FUTURE’
Discussing this situation, Wexner observed that “in sheer numbers, the future leaders — the rabbis, the educators, the communal leaders with training and knowledge — are simply not there. I wonder about the future and about our leadership, in terms of having the best, the brightest and the most insightful.”
He said that “When I think about the future, I think we will be dealing with consolidations of institutions more and more because of the economies, the efficiencies, and the lack of leadership that we will find. I believe that we are going to have greater needs and thinner resources.”
Wexner said that thought should be given to acquiring “seed money for founding an educational facility that satisfied the needs of the whole community, not just Reform Jews, Orthodox Jews, young people, old people, adult education, training. We need to provide for the lay leadership to lead better, and create a very broad, high caliber, high quality institution, so that not only do we perpetuate ourselves in terms of religious and Jewish content, but just simply in terms of leadership skills.”
The programs proposed by the Wexner Foundation will consist of grants to individuals and grants to institutions. The former will be in the form of fellowships for graduate study awarded to outstanding candidates for careers in Jewish communal service, the rabbinate and Jewish education. Grants to institutions will go to those which encourage innovation and excellence in the training and support of professional leadership, Wexner said.
Corson announced that Dr. Henry Rosovsky has accepted chairmanship of the Wexner Fellowship Committee. Rosovsky is the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University Prof. Robert Chazan, professor of history at Queens College and director of Judaic Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center, will be vice chairman.
Leslie Wexner is chairman of The Limited Inc. which owns 2,300 retail stores including Lerner Stores, Lane Bryant and Henri Bendel. He is also national vice chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, director and executive committee member of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and serves as a trustee or director of a wide range of cultural and civic institutions.
Corson, who was ordained as a rabbi in 1960 at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, has served in many areas of Jewish communal life, including as director of international and interreligious programming of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia, national director of the United Israel Appeal of Canada, and as associate international director of development of B’nai B’rith. He is currently on the Board of the Columbus Public Schools Fund.