JFNA taps Evan Bernstein as inaugural VP of community relations, drawing on his security background

Bernstein, the CEO of the Community Security Service, says his expertise will be useful in new role as safety issues become top priority; unclear who will succeed him at CSS 

The Jewish Federations of North America hired Evan Bernstein, who has until now served as CEO of the Community Security Service, as its inaugural vice president of community relations, amid a major rise in antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in the wake of the Hamas-Israel war.

Bernstein, who has a heightened awareness of the security issues facing Jewish communities around the country, told eJewishPhilanthropy that his work at JFNA will be a “different role given the community relations piece and working with federations around the country.” Still, he plans to draw on his experience leading CSS – a group that conducts security trainings and works to grow an expansive network of Jewish communal volunteers, who assist in event and synagogue security – while working in the new position with law enforcement and security directors.

“One of the things I realized when I was at CSS is how important security directors for federations are to the community at large in understanding the community,” Bernstein said. “There are a lot of ways community relations work with interfaith elected officials. People in the security space need to understand what’s going on in the community. Communities need to be integrated at a high level.”

Bernstein said that there was discussion about him stepping into the position prior to Hamas’ Oct. 7 deadly rampage in Israel. “But we’re seeing now just how necessary it is that communities have strong relationships with other groups, have people standing up for them and understand how to do that. The world has gotten unfortunately crazier for the Jewish people since Oct. 7.” It is not immediately clear who will replace Bernstein at CSS; no interim CEO has yet been announced.

Shira Hutt, JFNA’s executive vice president, told eJP that hiring Bernstein is an “essential complement” to JFNA’s existing efforts to lobby for more federal funds for security in Jewish communities. “[We’re] making sure that the community relations work that’s happening in federations has the support it needs, and now that we’re in a post-Oct. 7 world that need is even greater,” she said. 

“Evan is joining us at a time, frankly before Oct. 7, that we have been thinking a lot about how we can expand [community relations] work and support federations who are navigating the complexity of this moment with the rise of antisemitism,” Hutt said.

Bernstein told eJP that he plans to “get lay leaders involved” in communal security initiatives once he enters the new role.

“This can’t just be an effort from professionals,” he said. 

The executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, Ron Halber, told eJP that JFNA’s new vice president of community relations role does not conflict with the work that JCRCs and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs do around the country. “Most JCRCs are part of their federation,” Halber said. “There’s enough work to go around for everybody so I’m not particularly concerned.” 

Halber continued, “federation has a role to play in community relations… some things JFNA will focus on, some things Jewish Council for Public Affairs will focus on, and there’s plenty of things we’ll focus on together. Sometimes in Jewish organizational life, lines blur and that’s when you need to have good colleagues and good relationships.” 

Prior to starting at CSS in 2020, Bernstein worked for seven years at the Anti-Defamation League, including as the vice president of the group’s Northeast division, experience that Bernstein said he will also draw on in his new position. 

Bernstein, who starts at JFNA next month, said it can’t come soon enough. He expressed excitement to work with communities around the country at “one of the most important, if not the most important, Jewish organizations in the country.” 

“Every community is different,” he noted. “[We’re going to] look at every community with a different lens.”