Leadership and Civil Discourse with the Wexner Foundation

In 2017, Essential Partners embarked on a collaboration with the Wexner Foundation. The nonpartisan, interdenominational, and pluralistic Wexner Foundation has focused on the development of Jewish leaders in North America and Israel since its founding more than thirty years ago.

The goal of this collaboration was to empower alumni of the Wexner fellowship with the tools to foster civil discourse about the most pressing challenges their communities are facing.

“The dream,” said Rabbi Jay Henry Moses, Vice President of the Wexner Foundation, “would be that large numbers of our alumni would take up the banner of civil discourse and feel a sense of responsibility to advance it in their community.”

In focusing on civil discourse, Rabbi Moses explained, the Foundation hopes to address one of the most significant threats to the values and communities they support: the inability of people to come together and talk constructively about their differences.

The Vanguard of Civil Discourse

Drawing on their wealth of personal, professional, and life experiences, the alumni of the Wexner programs were given the opportunity to develop their facilitation skills and to participate in Essential Partners' approach to dialogue.

“Those who got the direct training from Essential Partners,” said Rabbi Moses, “[are]  the vanguard to help inspire and teach others that it is possible and worthwhile to do the really hard work of bringing people together.”

Because of that practical training and ongoing support—as well as, Rabbi Moses emphasized, the hope and inspiration the alumni received—nearly every Wexner alumni was able to advance a bridge-building project. Among the forty-plus alumni initiatives were:

●    Interfaith dialogues between Israeli Muslims and Jews
●    Transpartisan conversations in the American Jewish community
●    Intergenerational dialogues in Tel Aviv
●    Building the capacity for civil discourse in greater Baltimore
●    Dialogues about the role of Jewish philanthropy and democracy
●    Civic engagement among marginalized populations
●    Fostering civil discourse among business leaders in Ohio
●    Making civil discourse a purpose and practice in Jewish education
●    Convening transpartisan dialogues among Jewish parents

Training, Consultation, Customization

The project opened with a two-day Civic Engagement training for more than fifty Wexner Foundation fellowship alumni, which included business and Jewish communal leaders from the United States and public sector leaders from Israel.

That training was followed by custom consultation sessions over the course of the next ten months, supporting the specific community-building and dialogue project of each Wexner alumnus.

In Fall 2018, the Wexner Foundation hosted a capstone colloquium where alumni received additional skills training with EP co-Executive Director John Sarrouf. The focus of the capstone was designed to meet the needs of the fellows.

“Over the course of the consultations, I was able to get a sense of what these folks needed in particular,” said Sarrouf. “We designed the capstone curriculum to help make sure that these inspiring leaders have all the tools to succeed.”

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