Richard Wexler, critic of organized Jewish community, dies at 80

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(JTA) – Richard Wexler, who led efforts to consolidate American Jewish fundraisers into one giant and then become one of the outspoken critics of the resulting group, has died at the age of 80 years old.

Wexler died on October 19 after a battle with cancer, his family said in a funeral notice in the Chicago Tribune. He sought to make fundraising more effective by bringing together major Jewish philanthropic organizations under one roof.

A real estate attorney, Wexler became the chairman, or lay leader, of the United Jewish Appeal, the leading fundraising entity for Jewish philanthropy overseas, in 1996. The Chicago native had climbed the ranks. ranks of secular Jewish leadership through Soviet Jewish activism.

Hailed at the time as a “dynamo” who led key efforts in the early 1990s to absorb former Jews into Israel, he envisioned closer ties with Jewish federations, then regrouped under the aegis of the Council of Jewish federations.

Wexler also had a leadership role on the board, and he told the Jewish Telegraph Agency in 1996, anticipating a merger, “The only way for us to raise more money is in partnership with the federation.

Chemi Peres, son of the late ninth president Shimon Peres, speaks at the GA – the annual convention of the Jewish federations of North America. (credit: RON SACHS / CNP PHOTO)

This happened in 1999 under Wexler’s leadership as president of the UJA, when three bodies – the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations, and the United Jewish Appeal – combined into one body. , the United Jewish Communities. The UJC became in 2009 the Jewish Federations of North America.

Things quickly turned sour. Wexler sought unsuccessfully for leadership roles at the UJC and simultaneously argued that the new body was not leveraging the union of its bodies to raise more funds. In 2003, he published a book, “United Jewish Catastrophes… A Love Story”. He accused the leaders of the UJC of pursuing “favorite projects” to the detriment of the greater good of the company as a whole.

Depending on who was telling the story, Wexler resigned or was forced to quit his leadership positions at UJC in 2008. Wexler’s outspoken and heartbreaking blog, UJ Thee and Me, proved too hard to tolerate for lay and professional leaders of the UJC. It was an unusually acrimonious start with mutual accusations taped.

Wexler remained in executive positions with Chicago’s federation, the Jewish United Fund, until 2012. He had an engaging writing style, with a knack for being both sour and cheerful. He blogged until the end, shooting arrows left and right. In an article published in August, he compared Jewish organizations to Spirit Airlines, the low-cost airline known for its miserable management and painful travels.

As sour as it may be, it singled out those who sought to unify the Jews for loving praise. Recalling Richard Hirsch, the longtime leader of Reform Judaism who died in August, Wexler praised: “Hirsch’s enthusiasm kept us all going… Richard’s enthusiasm for this work was an integral part of his vision of modern Zionism – an inclusive and embracing Zionism.

In remembrance of Wexler, his family made a similar note: “His commitment to the Jewish people was driven by his belief that the world can be mended through hard work and the strength of will. “

“If you have no enemies, you have defended nothing,” attributed to Winston Churchill, was one of his favorite sayings, his daughter, Deborah Sobokin, said at her funeral. “For all of you who have been following my father’s blog, UJ Thee and Me, you know it was a lot.”

He is survived by his wife, Roberta, two sons, a daughter and eight grandchildren.


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