Cheryl Gordon had an established life in Texas before moving to Cleveland to be closer to family.
In Texas, she held many professional positions, including serving as director of the Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso in Texas, principal of Hillel High School and owner of Language Plus, an international training firm.
After moving to the Cleveland area, Gordon’s first mission was to find places where she could lend her skills and make a difference. She found that in National Council for Jewish Women/Cleveland, the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. She also used to conduct city salons in Beachwood.
CJN: How did you start to volunteer?
Gordon: Essentially, I’ve always been a doer. I’ve always been involved professionally. I owned a large business and have done different things that always involved people contact and trying to make a difference. And that was natural to continue here. I’ve taken on responsibilities that are akin to work. Even though the salaries don’t exist, I take them just as seriously. It’s part of my personality, and fundamentally a goal in life to make a difference as much and as long as I can. I came to NCJW because I love being with women who are smart and interesting. They let me live my passions and I found a place to be. And I think that is very true in the work I do with the city of Beachwood and it’s very true for Mandel JDS. I’m doing a lot in terms of training, which is one of my passions. So, I’ve found a place to continue making a difference.
CJN: Why is community involvement important?
Gordon: A lot of people I’ve encountered when asked to do something always give the “why they can’t.” And I try to encourage myself and others to explain the downside of volunteering and instead ask themselves “why they can” do something. People put up a list of objections first. I always try to put up a list of positives.
CJN: How did your careers prepare you for volunteering?
Gordon: I prepared academically for both of my careers. So obviously, I have those fundamental skills and I can speak with credibility and confidence. I also have tons of personal experience in mentoring other folks. These are things you can apply later in life and I don’t think that makes me unique. You draw upon both your formal preparation, which I have had the privilege of having, and there is tons of informal preparation. Both of those apply now.
CJN: What role does religion play in your mission to give back?
Gordon: I call myself an “underconstructionist Jew.” That is my denomination if there is such a thing. Judaism is very much part of all our lives. We live very Jewish lives, my husband, myself and our families. We live by those principles and by those rituals, so there has never been a clear distinction. I can’t say what the Jewish part was for me, as I can’t separate it. If you walk into my house, the art is Jewish, the food is Jewish and the language is referenced. I can’t take it out – it’s a big part of the whole. It is absolutely foundational for me – for my whole life.
CJN: Was volunteerism something you learned from an early age?
Gordon: I would say yes, but I also have to say that when you work in the Jewish community and not so much in my corporate world job, I was reliant on volunteers. It is very clear and emphasized to me how critical that is. Even though there is a paid professional at the top, those volunteers make a huge difference. So, at this stage of my life, I’m on the other end of the big picture but that picture is real for me.
Gordon said she plans to continue to volunteer.
“As long as I am able, I am going to continue to try and make a difference,” she said. “When I came here from El Paso, Texas, I assumed Cleveland had everything covered and I wouldn’t be needed. So, I’m grateful that I’ve found things that I’m useful for.”