Sonoma film fest director cast in new role: leading JCC

Eight years ago she got involved with the Sonoma County Jewish Community Center as a volunteer. Now she’s running the place.

Ellen Blustein

Ellen Blustein, 63, has become the agency’s executive director, the JCC announced in a news release in December. She has taken over for Beth Goodman, who retired on Oct. 31 after 10 years on the job.

Blustein moved to Santa Rosa in 2006 from Marin County, where her children attended Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Rafael and her family belonged to Congregation Kol Shofar. In 2007, she began volunteering at the Sonoma County JCC’s Jewish Film Festival partly as an effort to meet people — and the next year she came on staff as the film festival’s director.

She will retain that role in addition to her new responsibilities.

“It’s a really an exciting time to have a position of leadership in the Jewish community in Sonoma County,” Blustein said. “I’m very excited to be in this position.”

Blustein has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Chatham College in Pittsburgh and belongs to Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati.

She said she wants to diversify funding sources and expand the cultural offerings of the 25-year-old JCC that serves about 4,000 people each year.

“This is the northernmost Jewish community center in California,” Blustein pointed out. “This is the frontier of Judaism.”

She said the small center offers energetic programming for community members throughout the rural county even though it doesn’t have a building of its own. Rather, it takes its programs out into the community; the senior program, for example, offers luncheons and cultural trips for active seniors, and during Jewish holidays, nursing home residents are visited by volunteers.

The JCC also runs a teen program, a summer camp for kids and the film festival, which recently wrapped up its 20th season. “The festival is extremely popular and sold out,” Blustein said of the annual event, which is held over eight weeks in October and November.

Saying “the community has clamored for it,” Blustein wants to “really build our cultural program.” She envisions holding live theater productions and concerts.

She identified the Sonoma County JCC’s most important mission as serving unaffiliated Jews. “The community is growing and it’s very diverse,” she said. “So the JCC is here to serve everybody.”