18 Difference Makers 2017

Twenty-four leaders in the Jewish community were honored for giving back and exemplifying the quality of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, during the Cleveland Jewish News 2017 class of 18 Difference Makers ceremony Nov. 19.

About 550 people attended the event at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights, where the awards were distributed and the Difference Makers were celebrated.

Norma Geller, who has a long history of volunteering for and giving to organizations and institutions such as University Hospitals, Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and The Gathering Place, spoke about her motivations for giving back and those of her husband of nearly 65 years, Al, after accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Al’s mantra is you only go through life once, so make a difference, and mine is, when you see a need, act,” she said. “Perhaps our motivation, our caring and our actions led to this honor tonight.”

The Civic Leadership Honoree was Darrell A. Young and the Generation Award Honorees were Drs. Jeffrey and Lee Ponsky and Zachary Ponsky. 

Kevin S. Adelstein, publisher and CEO of the CJN and president of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, told the audience how the start of the month of Kislev and the upcoming holiday of Chanukah revolve around bringing light into the world – both figuratively and literally – and as is fitting this time of year, the Difference Makers are recognized for bringing light into the community. 



“Add to the wonderful qualities contained within (creating) light is also the idea that we share our good fortunes and blessings for the benefit of others as well,” he said. “This so truly represents each and every person we are honoring tonight.

“Mazel tov to all of you lamp lighters, who brighten the lives of so many others in such a selfless manner.”

CJPC Board Chair Barry R. Chesler also commended the Difference Makers. 

“It’s truly exciting to see such an unbelievable response to these deserving, continued Difference Makers,” he said. “We are so fortunate in this community of Northeast Ohio to have so many great and deserving people who can clearly be labeled as Difference Makers to our Jewish community, our secular community and our national and international communities.” 

In Geller’s speech, she also discussed some of the causes she’s given time and money to and why they are meaningful to her, such as the Hillel student center at CWRU that holds her and Al’s names. Among other community endeavors, she works with John Carroll University students to provide food for the homeless in downtown Cleveland and the near West Side.

“We give the homeless a meal prepared by the students, as well as personal supplies, and we interact with them in friendship,” she said. “Each time I have gone over the last several years, I become more aware of my blessings and the gratitude I feel in being able to ease the burdens of others.” 

After her own recovery from ovarian cancer, Geller also filled a need by helping to provide transportation for cancer patients who don’t have their own, “so no one will need worry any longer about how they will get to the hospital for cancer treatment. 

“These acts were our way of showing how grateful we are for the help I received.” 

Co-presenting sponsors were Classic Lexus, Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management and HW Financial Advisors. Video sponsor was Greater Cleveland Partnership.


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