Wexler, Robert D.

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WEXLER, ROBERT D. (1951– ), U.S. educator. Wexler was born in Los Angeles in 1951 and received his early Jewish education at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a Reform congregation. He was introduced to traditional Judaism when he attended a local Orthodox summer camp, where he met his future wife, Hannah Goldhaar, and became profoundly influenced by her family, who were Holocaust survivors and deeply committed to Zionism.

While attending ucla as an undergraduate, Wexler began taking classes at the Los Angeles branch of the Hebrew Union College (huc), with the intention of becoming a Reform rabbi. But he was increasingly drawn to a more observant life style and a more traditional theology, and in 1969 he left huc and enrolled part-time at the University of Judaism (uj).

After receiving his B.A. in sociology in 1971, he enrolled full-time at the uj's new pre-rabbinic program, and later spent three years in the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where he was ordained in 1977. In order to prepare himself for possible future immigration to Israel, Wexler spent those same three years in New York earning an M.B.A. degree from Baruch College of the City University of New York. Wexler also taught at jts's Prozdor High School. Before returning to Los Angeles in 1978, he spent a year on the faculty of Princeton University in the Department of Near Eastern Languages.

At the invitation of then-president David Lieber, Wexler was invited to join the faculty of the University of Judaism in 1978. Wexler also enrolled in a doctoral program at ucla, where he received both an M.A. and Ph.D. from the Department of Near Eastern Languages. At the University of Judaism, Wexler filled a variety of administrative positions before succeeding David Lieber as president in 1992.

Wexler became an adherent of the social philosophy of Mordecai Kaplan and the concept of Judaism as a civilization. Recognizing the growing trend away from denominationalism, Wexler quickly steered the uj toward a nondenominational position within the Jewish mainstream.

During the first decade of his presidency, Wexler launched three major initiatives: the Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies, the Center for Israel Studies, and the Ziering Institute. In 1995 he founded at the uj the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies, which was the first American rabbinical school in the western United States.

The Center for Israel Studies was created in response to Wexler's growing conviction that American Jews needed to be educated more fully about the history, politics, and culture of the modern state of Israel. In 2001 the uj inaugurated a lecture series at the Universal Amphitheater, which has been attended by over 5,000 people annually. Serving as moderator of the series, Wexler gained a reputation for his interviews with national political figures, such as former U.S. president Bill Clinton, former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, and former U.S. secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright.

In addition to his work at the University of Judaism, Wexler served in a variety of community leadership roles. He chaired the Los Angeles Federation's Commission on Israelis and the Committee on Jewish Education.

[Iris Waskow (2nd ed.)]