Suzan Berns is, by her own admission, a woman who wears many hats.
Currently the North Bay regional coordinator for the Jewish Community Relations Council, she also does marketing for a number of local Jewish agencies, such as the Hebrew Free Loan Association; is active on the board of Congregation Rodef Sholom in Marin; produces Mosaic, a monthly show on the Bay Area’s CBS affiliate; and still finds time to do freelance writing — such as j.’s own Faces column.
Starting July 1, she added one more: president of the Marin Interfaith Council for the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. Berns has served as secretary of the council for the last two years, and was a board member prior to that; she says the new position is just another way to represent the Jewish community she cares for so deeply.
“I think [the council] enables us to have a real profile here amidst all the diverse faith communities in Marin, to speak about things we feel are important,” she says. “It’s things like the fact that the whole council was able to immediately sign on with JCRC to oppose San Francisco’s measure to ban circumcision. That was something we took a stand on together.”
The council, a 29-year-old organization launched by a rabbi and a Presbyterian minister, brings religious leaders and members of various faith communities together for study, community activities and celebrations throughout the year. Participants experience one another’s prayers, meditations and music. The council’s vision holds that “interfaith understanding breaks down barriers, creates trust and builds genuine relationships.”
The role of president is given each year to a member of a different faith, with a goal of equally dividing leadership roles among the represented religions. The outgoing president is a Sufi, the previous year’s president was Episcopalian.
Berns, a native of Akron, Ohio, said she grew up in a conservative synagogue where she “knew everybody.” She was deeply entrenched in her local young Jewish community — which, because there weren’t many Jews in the area, was that much more important to her, “especially when your parents say you can only date Jewish boys.”
After living in Los Angeles for 15 years, Berns moved to San Rafael in 1985 for a job in the marketing department at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, and has been in the Bay Area ever since.
As for the coming year, Berns said she’s particularly excited to help strengthen the relationship between MIC and JCRC, through events like the Freedom Seder, which former MIC executive director the Rev. Carol Hovis co-led with Rabbi Lee Bycel. She’s also looking forward to collaborating with new Jewish members joining the MIC board, including Suzanne Sadowsky of Gan HaLev, and Rabbi Henry Shreibman, formerly the head of Brandeis Hillel Day School and the face of Reconstructionist Judaism in the Bay Area.
“This is just one more way for the Jewish community to have a voice,” she said. “It’s about building bridges, and I’m excited to keep being part of that in any way I can.”