March 21, 2023

Q + A with JCRC Director Linda Scherzer

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are spotlighting Linda Scherzer, Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. A powerhouse for change, Linda has been championing the issues that matter most to the Jewish community here in Greater MetroWest, in Israel, and abroad since 2016. She works tirelessly to build strong relationships with elected officials and other area leaders to shine a light on antisemitism and to advocate for human rights, equality, and the State of Israel.

After a long and successful career in the media and public relations sector, what made you shift to the non-profit world?
My decision to move into the non-profit sector after working for CNN evolved over time, especially after I became the mother of three children. That’s kind of when I discovered that being a war correspondent on the front lines of the Israel-Palestinian conflict was no longer compatible with my personal life! I am grateful for the years I spent with CNN and for a couple of years after that, as a reporter for Israel Television’s Hebrew news program. Not only did those experiences help me develop my professional skills in media and communications but they also led to new friendships in Israel and the Jewish world.

Those relationships eventually led me to the Greater MetroWest which had an opening for a JCRC Director. While I hadn’t been a full-time employee for many years, I knew this was something I wanted. First, Greater MetroWest was a leader in the Federation world; and that, combined with the fact that I had always had a deep interest in American government, Israel advocacy, and community relations building, made this an incredible opportunity to leverage my professional interests and experience while doing good for the Jewish community.

How has the recent rise in antisemitism affected and/or inspired the work you are doing at Federation?
There are two things I know to be true which drive much of my work at Federation and apply most crucially to the rise in antisemitism. First is that every crisis can lead to opportunity and it’s important to find the path to something good that starts from something dark or bad. Antisemitism, as we’ve seen in recent years, has been steadily on the rise, aided by social media which has transported it like a virus and amplified it in ways that humankind could never have imagined. But the second thing I know to be true, which leads from the first, is that relationships matter. Real world relationships, one-on-one engagement, is the antidote to hatred. It’s why we at JCRC/GMW have been doubling down on our work to reach out across interfaith and inter-ethnic lines, to forge new relationships, work in common cause, and discover one another’s humanity. Because the more people know each other, the less reason they have to hate. It’s why the words “community relations” is the title of my department. Because it’s central to our work, advocating for a strong. secure Jewish community and helping develop the fabric of a healthy civil society.

What are the programs, initiatives, relationships that you are most proud leading or being a part of at Federation?
I’ve been blessed to be part of a Jewish Federation that encourages leadership and innovation. So I’m proud to have led one of the largest rallies to promote responsible gun safety legislation in the country following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the legislative advocacy work which came after. I’m proud that during the immigration crisis at the southern border, I joined two leaders from our Federation on a JCPA mission to the Arizona/Mexican border to bring attention to the deteriorating situation. I’m proud of our work in the social justice space, the anti-racism task force we’ve created, and the work we’re doing to advance racial equality.

But the program I’d say has made me the proudest is our Teen Israel Leadership Council, formerly Write On For Israel. These programs, over the last 20 years, have prepared close to 1,000 high school students to lead the pro-Israel community on their future college campuses. In an atmosphere of rising antisemitism and toxic, anti-Israel activity, preparing our young people for leadership and giving them the confidence to stand up for their opinions or to proudly demonstrate their support for Israel, has been deeply gratifying.

Years ago, when I was a CNN correspondent in Israel, I used to speak a lot to American Jewish audiences. People didn’t like CNN. They felt that the foreign press was grossly one-sided, deeply critical of Israel, and overwhelmingly supportive of the Palestinian position. I remember a man in Montreal once saying to me during one of my talks, “You’re in a position of enormous influence, why can’t you be like Queen Esther and use your role to support your fellow Jews?” As a journalist, that would not have been professionally sound or acceptable, which I tried to explain to the man. But I remember his words and feel that in my current role, and through the work I’ve done for the past 20 years, I answered his call. I feel proud to have given back and, in particular, to have helped empower a new generation of Jewish women and men, from Modern Orthodox to Reform and Conservative, reflecting political positions that are left, right, and conflicted center, to stand proudly in support of Israel, whether they agree with Israeli government policy or not.

Who is your role model?
There’s no one person I can point to as a role model per se. But certainly, there are people from whom I have learned my most important life lessons. A friend and colleague who worked for years as part of the senior management team at AIPAC ingrained in me the importance of relationship building and the ways in which relationships drive our professional work and personal lives. From another colleague in the media I learned the values of honest reporting, being true to the ideals of journalism, challenging myself to ask tough questions, and applying critical thinking to everything I do. From respected lay leaders and professionals at Jewish Federation I have learned the importance of building Jewish community and applying the values we hold dear to the work we do for this community. And finally, my father helped me develop a love for books, two of which completely changed, transformed, and enriched my life.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Find your passion and be the best at whatever you choose to be. Don’t be afraid to change your path along the way. Find someone you love to share your life with and always look for new adventures. Oh – and don’t forget to read a book! It may very well change your life, too.