Robert D. Wexler has served as president of the American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism since 1992.) Born in Los Angeles in 1951, he attended local public schools and received his B.A. in Sociology from UCLA in 1971. He was ordained as a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York where he also earned a Master of Arts degree in Hebrew Literature. While enrolled in rabbinical school, Dr. Wexler also earned his M.B.A. degree from Baruch College in New York City with a specialization in accounting. Following his ordination in 1977, he spent a year on the faculty of Princeton University teaching in the Department of Middle East Studies.
Returning to Los Angeles in 1978, Dr. Wexler joined the staff of the American Jewish University (AJU), where he occupied a variety of administrative positions before becoming that institution's president. He earned both a master of arts degree and a Ph.D. from UCLA in the Department of Near Eastern Languages. His doctoral dissertation dealt with concepts of death and immortality in the ancient near east.
Despite the fact that his religious commitments were principally shaped by his early exposure to liberal Orthodoxy, 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 AJU toward a nondenominational position within the Jewish mainstream. The composition of the student body and the AJU's board of directors soon came to reflect this decision and began to include Jews from each of the religious movements as well as many who are avowedly secular.
During the first decade of his presidency, Wexler launched two major initiatives: the Ziegler School for Rabbinic Studies and the Ziering Institute. In 1995, he founded at the AJU the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies, the first American rabbinical school in the western United States. This highly controversial decision was the result of a $22 million anonymous gift to the university, which, at the time, was the largest single gift ever given for Jewish educational purposes. In 2006 an additional gift of $18 million was made to the Ziegler School.
During Wexler's tenure, AJU started its Community Partners Initiative (CPI) in which the university began reaching out to the many ethnic and religious communities of Los Angeles. The Initiative has brought carefully selected mid-level administrators from organizations in the Afro-Ameircan, Latino and Asian communities to study at AJU to receive training in the management of nonprofit enterprises. This is one of the few programs of its kind in the United States. The CPI students joined the existing AJU students who are preparing for careers in Jewish nonprofit organizations.
Dr. Wexler also recruited Holocaust scholar, Michael Berenbaum, to the university and opened the Ziering Institute with its focus on the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust.
AJU's Whizin Center for Continuing Education is the largest Jewish adult education program in the United States with more than 15,000 participants each year. Although adult education has been an integral part of AJU for decades, in 2007 the Whizin family made a gift of $33 million to support and expand its operations.
In 2001 AJU inaugurated a lecture series at the Universal Amphitheater attended by over 5,000 people annually. Serving as moderator of the series for six years, Wexler has 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, former British prime minister Tony Blair, and former U.S. secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger, Madlyn Albright and Colin Powell.
In 2007, Wexler negotiated a merger between the University of Judaism and the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. The new, merged organization became known as the American Jewish University. The Brandeis-Bardin campus is located in Simi Valley and is approximately 2700 acres in size. It is the largest property in the country owned by a Jewish nonprofit organization. The expanded campus provides unlimited opportunities for the expansion of AJU.
In addition to his work at the American Jewish University, 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. He also sits on the executive committees of several Jewish organizations.
Wexler was included by Newsweek in its list of America's 50 most influential rabbis, ranking #7 in 2007 and #3 in 2008. He has also been included on the Forward's list of the 50 most significant American Jewish leaders.
He has published several articles including contributions to the Encyclopedia Judaica, the Etz Hayim commentary on the Torah, and a volume entitled Israel, the Diaspora and Jewish Identity.