Meet Long-Standing Members Sylvia and Leonard Metz

Meet Long-Standing Members Sylvia and Leonard Metz

By Lily Guggenheim

From about 30 families squished in a garage on Stelling Road to the now 500 families who enjoy the newly renovated Congregation Beth David, it is because of families like Sylvia and Len Metz that our community has come so far. Beth David is recognizing these long-standing members in the perfect way by “building bridges” between two generations. After having the opportunity (on FaceTime) to interview both of the Metz’s, I was able to get to know both Sylvia and Len.

My name is Lily Guggenheim and I have always thrived in a strong Jewish community. Growing up in the Beth David community and spending my childhood at the JCC and Yavneh Day School, I will always be thankful for how this community has provided me with the tools to be the best person I could possibly be. This is why it is so important to speak to those who helped build this community, one that I now depend upon.

Len Metz was born and grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. He was constantly surrounded by his big Jewish family and community. Sylvia Metz was born in Poland at the start of the Holocaust, but she and her parents managed to escape and  immigrated to Brooklyn, New York.  Her mother and father were able to create a home in New York City, immersed in diverse communities. Yet, when it came to real friendships, Sylvia remained involved in the Jewish community.

Meanwhile, Len Metz’s Jewish community was surrounded by anti-semitic communities. Although he tried to stay out of the constant fighting between circles, at times he got caught up in the violence. Len gravitated to his Jewish community, much like Sylvia, learning the benefits and advantages of being surrounded by a flourishing Jewish neighborhood.

Bringing together the Jewish community was the standard for Sylvia’s family. When survivors came over to this country, her parents opened their home, helped them find housing and assisted them in finding employment.  She quickly realized that she was surrounded by survivors so it was up to her “to make sure that everybody was taken care of and felt welcomed.” This rang true every day of Sylvia’s childhood and continues every day as the Jewish community continues to thrive by relying on one another.

Len branched out to further his education by attending the University of Rhode Island and got his degree in chemical engineering. While at University of Rhode Island, Len joined AEPi and Hillel. After graduating, Len received a job offer in Southern California and moved to the Bay Area.

Sylvia attended Adelphi College where she majored in theater and minored in education. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she began teaching senior high school. She soon decided to get her master’s degree in early childhood development at NYU and then began teaching kindergarten.

In the summertime of 1966, Sylvia and a friend decided to take a road trip to California. But, after learning it didn’t rain in the summertime, Sylvia decided to stay in the sunny Bay Area with which she had now fallen in love. Sylvia had planned on returning home to New York, (back to the rain) but once she met Len, she never went back.

Len attended services at Temple Emanuel looking for a new home for his Judaism. His search for a new community led him straight to Rabbi and Rosalie Gitin, who sent Len on a myriad of dates until he met Sylvia. Their marriage came soon after, along with a membership to Temple Emanuel. Although having a Jewish community filled much of the Metz’s needs, something was missing and Sylvia and Len knew they would feel more comfortable at a Conservative synagogue.

One day, Alex Bower, one of the first members of Beth David, called Sylvia in search of a kindergarten teacher for their religious school. Before the Metz’s knew it, they were sitting in a house on Stelling attending a Shabbat service. By the time they left, Len was a member of the board and Sylvia joined the women’s group. They went to services every Friday night, and each time Beth David became more and more their home. Whether in a garage on Stelling or under a Magen David sculpted ceiling on Prospect, Beth David was built to last and feel like a home for all.

Len understands the importance of a strong Jewish community and he has often been motivated by Israel in keeping his own Jewish identity strong. After visiting many times, seeing family, and reconnecting with his Jewish roots, Len was often reminded of the importance of the existence of the State of Israel.

​The Jewish community is renowned for being there for each other and although we can’t be there in person, the Metz’s story is the perfect reminder that your community is still out there fighting for you each day. Whether that is by staying home, wearing a mask, or exercising one’s right to vote, we are all still here for each other. Especially during the pandemic and times of extreme division in our country, we must band together as a people, creating light where there is darkness.

My discussion with the Metz’s built a bridge, not only between three people, not only between a younger generation and an older generation, but for my entire community. Everyone who reads this article can get to know Sylvia and Len Metz, two founders of our Jewish community. Their stories are ones I will cherish because they have inspired me to be a founder, not just a member: to be the one who opens my home, not just the one who walks in; to be the one who volunteers to serve, not just the one who benefits from a volunteer’s work. And, they have inspired me to listen when my future “Mrs. Gitin” sets me up on a date with “the one.”

Building Bridges is an exciting new initiative at Congregation Beth David formed to connect teens and college students with longstanding Beth David members. For more information, please contact Helaine Green and Bonnie Slavitt, Building Bridges coordinators at BuildingBridges@beth-david.org

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