Some might know Geli from his long association with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (JFMD) in Bloomfield Township.
Geli knew everyone, and everyone knew Geli. Or so it seemed to anyone who crossed paths with the friendly, outgoing Jewish communal worker — a born connector.
Some might know Geli from his long association with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (JFMD) in Bloomfield Township. He also was an executive for 15 years at the West Bloomfield-based Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Metropolitan Detroit and capped his professional career in Farmington Hills by serving four years as East Central Region director of the American Technion Society. His voluntarism and acts of kindness further distinguished him.
Allan Marvin (“Call me Geli”) Gelfond, 85, died on May 28, 2021. He was a resident of Farmington Hills.
“The mere mention of his name meant commitment, stewardship, caring and an unwavering commitment to the Jewish people,” said Mark Davidoff, a former chief operating officer at JFMD and now CEO of The Fisher Group and an adviser to the Detroit Jewish News Foundation.
“Geli dedicated his life to the Detroit Jewish community,” said Rabbi Harold Loss, officiating at his Temple Israel congregant’s June 1 funeral. Yet, Metro Detroit was Geli’s adopted home. Born Aug. 16, 1935, in Vancouver, Canada, Geli and his parents, Sally and Morris, and younger brother, Chuck, lived behind the family’s grocery store.
Geli took a fancy to the youth movement Habonim, a wing of today’s Ameinu organization. Habonim develops Jewish leaders with a strong love of Israel and commitment to building peace and justice through community activism.
After 11th grade, Geli joined other Canadian and American youth on the second Habonim Dror Workshop, the longest-running Israel gap year program in North America since 1951. Geli’s big adventure changed his life. He met Harriet Subrin from a Labor Zionist family in Detroit before returning home to finish high school. They married on Dec. 18, 1954, in Lacher’s, a Dexter Avenue storefront.
Geli earned bachelor and master’s degrees in social work at Wayne State University. Years later, he and Harriet funded a scholarship for WSU social work students who planned to work with those having developmental disabilities.
A first job leading Habonim in Detroit paid just $35 weekly. But wages weren’t the main thing for Geli. “He involved himself in every cause,” Harriet said. “He had his eyes and ears open for any need that needed filling.”
Prototype for JARC
Geli developed the Parents Association for Residential Care while working at the JCC. The program was the prototype for JARC, founded in 1969 and headquartered in Farmington Hills. JARC provides housing and other services to people with developmental challenges.
Between 1980-2009, Geli rose to the position of senior financial resource officer for the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. He served as Annual Campaign director and raised hundreds of millions of dollars. JFMD gave him several awards.
“In the Campaign area, he was the ‘go to guy.’ He was really successful because he liked people and they liked him,” said Penny Blumenstein, a former Federation president. With his easy personality, Geli improved the experience of taking JFMD missions to Israel. “He always had a story and a joke,” she said.
A eulogy by Geli’s friend, Steve Katzman of Arizona, was read at the graveside service. Geli, wrote Katzman, had “many ideas for how to improve the world we live in. He was concerned about government cuts to nonprofits. He sought more money for those in need.”
Geli networked before the word was widely used. He carried business cards of people looking for work, then was elated to match them with suitable employers.
Deena Gelfond said her dad shared information and articles on topics he thought the recipient would enjoy, such as the sports clippings he sent her brother, Noam, at camp. Geli’s hobby was long-distance running, including 60-mile ultra-marathons.
At home, the Gelfond children saw parents who supported each other. As Loss noted: “Geli loved his family; he loved the Jewish people; he loved our Jewish community; he loved being of service.”
Geli Gelfond is survived by his wife, Harriet; daughters, Gila and Deena; son and daughter-in-law, Noam and Elise; brother, Charles; grandson, Max and Max’s mother, Sabra.
Interment was at Machpelah Cemetery in Detroit. Contributions may be directed to JARC, The Gelfond Ill and Aging Fund, 6735 Telegraph Road, Suite 100, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48301, jarc.org/make-a-donation, (248) 940-2617; or Yad Ezra, 2850 W. 11 Mile Road, Berkley, MI 48072, yadezra.org/donate, (248) 548-3663; or a charity of one’s choice. Arrangements by Ira Kaufman Chapel.