New Jewish Community Relations Council director | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

New Jewish Community Relations Council director

The new director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council brings years of related experience and a recognition that the post-Oct. 7 Jewish world is different. 

Roberta S. Clark, the new executive director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, started May 16. Most recently, Andrea Bernstein had been leading the JCRC, as its associate director, up until April. 

Clark brings with her experience with community relations, antisemitism and Jewish agencies. She spent 14 years at the Anti-Defamation League, later serving for five years as executive director of the Oklahoma City Jewish Federation. She also worked elsewhere in the Jewish world but more recently missed community relations work and saw the Milwaukee JCRC role as an opportunity to return to that kind of work at an impressive organization, she said. 

The mission of the JCRC is to speak as the representative of the Jewish community on issues of public affairs and public policy by convening and mobilizing the Jewish community through education, advocacy, social justice and support for Israel. 

Clark said that as she confronts issues, of which she knows there are manifold in today’s Jewish world, she likes to apply a three-step decision-making model: What are the facts? What are the realistic expectations? What is wise? 

“How we make positive change is more important than whether or not we’re right, or whether or not we let someone know that we’re really angry with them for something they said or did,” she said. 

Clark wants to build and maintain bridges with interfaith, Civil Rights, and other groups. This is the kind of work that feeds her soul, she said. 

Oct. 7 and antisemitism 

“Oct. 7 took our breath away and was an act of terrorism and did what terrorism does, which is instill fear in a community when a group is targeted because of their immutable characteristics,” she said. “The brutality and the murders, and the rapes and the horrors of all of it are so hard to comprehend.” 

She said that Israel had to respond to the attacks. Yet some of the response to the attacks and the war has been antisemitic and has included protests that are more about being anti-Israel than pro-Palestinian, she said. Clark said that it’s important to commend those who speak out against antisemitism and other injustice. “We have to recognize that when people understand and stand with us, it doesn’t mean we agree on everything, and we don’t have to agree on everything,” she said. 

Clark said that “we live in challenging times. As a Jewish community and with allies, we can find ways to move forward.” The emphasis must be on “safety and security of the Jewish people.” 

This is part of why she feels strongly that any discussion of a cease-fire should address the hostages. “The word ceasefire should never be mentioned, without in the same breath, the phrase ‘release of all hostages.’ We cannot talk about a ceasefire and not recognize what happened on October 7,” she said. 

Clark noted that some misguided students on college campuses have been “chanting ‘from the river to the sea,’ and they don’t know which river and which sea; they don’t know the number of times the Palestinian people have been offered their own state, that their leadership has turned down.” 

“A lot of these students, and I would say some adults as well, don’t understand that Hamas is not a legitimate government. It’s a terrorist organization. Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations who have the goal of wiping Israel off the map as the Jewish homeland and killing all Jews.” 

“And it’s very easy to put our head in the sand and say, I just can’t do it anymore, that things will never get better,” she said, but she added that this is not an option. She said part of moving forward is working on relationships, even if they must be approached differently in the post-Oct. 7 landscape.  

“It is not our responsibility to finish the task, and neither can we withdraw from it; we have to keep going. We have to continue to work towards better times,” said Clark, quoting “Pirkei Avot,” Ethics of the Fathers. “This is overwhelming, emotional and exhausting for everyone. Our Jewish community has to focus on safety and security. And we have to keep living meaningful Jewish lives – this fear and sadness, and whatever else people are feeling, cannot consume us to the point that we’re no longer living beautiful Jewish lives.”