After 20 years of community-building, Sonoma leader moving on

A professional Jew was never something Carolyn Metz aspired to be. Especially since she was raised in an Episcopalian home.

But once she met a certain Jewish man, she found that she was attracted to Judaism as well.

“I liked the people and the values, because they were important to me, too, so it was fairly easy for me to make that choice,” she said.

She converted to Judaism three hours before she married her husband, whom she has since divorced.

Metz, now ending a 20-year career in the Jewish community of Sonoma County, is being honored with the Benny Friedman Community Recognition Award at a dinner 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Friedman Center, 4676 Mayette Ave., Santa Rosa.

She is not retiring, but rather beginning a new career in this next phase of her life; as she enters her 60s, she is going into real estate.

“I’m at the age now where my kids are on their own, and I just decided I wanted to do something else,” she said. “I could take a chance that I hadn’t been able to 20 years ago as a single mother.”

Metz first became involved in the Sonoma County Jewish community as a volunteer. The young mother of three — and eventually five — thought her children would be happier at religious school if she got more involved.

This led to her coordinating events and doing fund-raising for the synagogue, Congregation Beth Ami, which led to her being hired as the director of a summer day camp, Camp Chai.

Metz did that for two years, and then, in 1984, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s leadership decided to open a regional office in Santa Rosa. Metz’s friend encouraged her to apply to run it.

When Metz confessed she knew nothing about professional fund-raising, her friend said, “I don’t think it matters. Just see what happens.”

Metz got the job.

“I really liked the work, because I liked creating relationships, and I liked the concept of building the community,” she said. “And it became apparent that the fund-raising and the community-building were really hand in hand, and there was no separating one from the other.”

Metz found that she largely enjoyed the work because “Sonoma County is unique. We don’t have a big affiliated Jewish population. It’s really a very interesting group of people who are willing to look at doing things differently.”

Quite a few events grew out of Metz’s leadership, including “Simcha Sunday,” which attracted unaffiliated Jews by offering an afternoon of Jewish food, arts and crafts, music and family activities.

Over the years, Metz oversaw the planning of a Jewish professionals group, retreats for Jewish women and Jewish film and music festivals.

But then, in 1996, everything changed when the JCF decided to close its Sonoma County office to save money, giving Metz one-day notice.

People were shocked and angry, and Metz was included in that group.

Nevertheless, that event spurred the opening of the Jewish Community Agency, which hired Metz as its leader, to plan programming in Sonoma County without the help of the JCF.

Two years later, the JCF apologized, and reopened its Sonoma office, once again bringing Metz aboard.

“To their credit, they realized they made a mistake,” she said.

Since 1998, Metz has been doing both jobs. But that will change when she steps down.

“On the one hand, I was raising money for federation. On the other hand, I was executive director of an organization that was receiving federation money, and I was also fund-raising for the JCA, and it became a huge conflict of interest.”

Together with the leadership of both organizations, since it’s largely the same people anyhow, a decision was made to hire two people for the two positions once Metz leaves. Someone to handle the federation position has already been hired, and a search is under way to replace Metz in the JCA position.

Metz is ready for her new career, but said she felt blessed to work with so many wonderful people over the years.

“These people just really believed in what they were doing and had a good ethic in the way they were raising money and working to build the community,” she said.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."