JCF office-closing irks area leaders

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The abrupt closure last month of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's Santa Rosa satellite office was intended to save money.

But it also has upset many Sonoma County Jewish leaders.

"We felt it was a huge slap to our community…We feel demeaned," said Barbara Tomin, an interim board member of Sonoma County's Jewish Community Agency and principal of the Jewish Day School of Sonoma County. "Some people are going to withhold money [from the federation campaign]. Some are going to write letters."

On April 16, federation officials told JCF's Sonoma County regional director Carolyn Metz both that the office was closed and that her job was eliminated — as of the previous day. Her last duty was to inform the office's only other worker, a part-time administrative assistant, of the layoffs.

Wayne Feinstein, the federation's executive vice president, said the decision was simply a financial one because funding had run out.

"The people who have been most involved are understandably upset," Feinstein said last week.

He didn't expect that the issue would affect the annual fund-raising campaign, which is now in its final two months.

But at least one family has already chosen to withhold funds. Stuart and Ethel Schy of Santa Rosa sent a protest letter to the federation on April 24 with a check for $225 — half the amount they originally pledged to the campaign.

"It's the only avenue open to us," Stuart Schy said. "It's the only thing management will listen to."

Several Sonoma County community leaders said they had long expected the office would close on June 30, 1996 — the end of the federation's 1995-96 fiscal year.

The federation board originally decided last spring to close the office as of June 30, 1995, to reduce overhead and administrative costs. But a last-minute plea from the community led to a onetime grant of $75,700 from the Dessauer Trust of the federation's endowment fund.

The grant meant that Metz and her assistant could continue working out of a room at Santa Rosa's Congregation Beth Ami. Metz had been running the office since it first opened in late 1984, after the federation officially incorporated Sonoma County into its territory.

Since last summer, Metz continued her previous duties and became the staff person for a group of about 16 volunteers trying to form a new organization called the Jewish Community Agency.

The agency, which is applying for nonprofit status, hopes to create a "Jewish community center without walls" that will organize activities and strengthen relationships among the county's synagogues and Jewish agencies.

The agency recently applied to the federation's endowment for a $97,000 startup grant to cover the first year of staffing and office expenses. That application meant the planning process that Metz helped oversee was complete, Feinstein said.

Financial matters beyond the minutiae of office expenses figured in the closure.

Feinstein and community leaders concurred that the federation was putting more money into Sonoma County than residents were donating to the annual campaign — which last year raised $18.6 million in the federation territory comprising San Francisco, the Peninsula and Marin and Sonoma counties.

Over the past five or six years, Feinstein said, Sonoma County Jews donated an average of $200,000 per year.

Staff salaries, rent and supplies for the federation's Santa Rosa office amounted to $93,600 for the current fiscal year.

In addition, this year the federation sent about $32,000 to help finance Camp Chai for children and Friendship Circle for seniors, as well as nursery schools at congregations Beth Ami and B'nai Israel. Another $90,000 from the federation helped pay for the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services' satellite office in Santa Rosa.

The funding for these five organizations will remain intact, Feinstein said. "We're not abandoning our support for the county."

Irving Newman, an interim board member of the Jewish Community Agency, said he understood that the Santa Rosa federation office wasn't cost-effective.

"But I'm saying the federation is not just in the business of raising funds," said Newman, also a former county chair of the federation campaign and still a member of the county campaign cabinet.

Metz agreed.

"It's always been the big issue that Sonoma County doesn't raise enough money," she said. "I feel our job is not only to raise money, but to build community and get Jews involved in something Jewish. I think we did an outstanding job…We created community."

Metz's duties among the county's estimated 10,000 Jews included overseeing the annual campaign there, coordinating volunteers, organizing adult education classes and lectures, running an annual communitywide celebration called Simcha Sunday and networking among the synagogues and Jewish agencies.

"We became the central conveners of the community here," Metz said. "We did major outreach."

She started with a list of 900 Jews in the county, she said. The list now comprises 2,700 names.

Campaign fund-raising will continue out of San Francisco, Feinstein said.

Alfred Batzdorff, an interim board member of the Jewish Community Agency and a former president of Congregation Beth Ami, said he believes the sudden closure might damage the federation's fund-raising efforts.

Instead of catching everyone by surprise, Batzdorff said, the federation might have done better to discuss the plan with the community ahead of time.

"The trauma of the event could have been avoided."