Invest in Yourself: A Q&A with Lecia Sud

Invest in Yourself: A Q&A with Lecia Sud

Lecia Sud. Photo credit Dave Hawks.

By Tonyia Cone

Community leader Lecia Sud was recently selected for a Jewish Federations of North America 2019 Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award. The award is given to one woman from each community who exemplifies the spirit of the Lion of Judah, an international sisterhood of thousands of philanthropic women of all ages who care deeply about the Jewish future.

Lions of Judah play a vital role in aiding the vulnerable, preserving human dignity and building Jewish identity, demonstrating dedication to the Jewish community by contributing time and resources. Each woman makes an annual donation to the Jewish Federation that reflects her capacity to give. In most communities, the threshold annual commitment is $5,000.

Sud, who received the Woman of Valor Award in 2009, is Shalom Austin’s 2019 Annual Campaign Chair. The Jewish Outlook sat down to talk with her about her history in the Jewish community, what she is currently doing, and her plans for the future.

How long have you lived in Austin? What brought you here?
I’ve lived in Austin since basically 2000. I was a college student here but then didn't have a way of making a living here in Austin. So I moved to Houston for a while, which was a good thing because there I met Jim, my husband.

How did you get involved in Austin’s Jewish Community?
I was very involved in the Jewish community in Houston and had already served on the board of trustees for the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. At Beth Yeshurun, I was vice president of the congregation and served on the board. I was also involved in Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Community Relations Committee.

When I moved here, I was missing something. So I reached out and got involved and what I found was probably one of the most giving and caring communities.

I'll never forget, I was at Margo Smith's house and planning for the very first Mosaic lunch. Margo and Val Newberg asked if I would explain to the women where the dollars go that we were raising for Mosaic. I said, “So all of these women in this room have pledged gifts and they don't even know where the money is actually going? I mean, they know it's going to Jewish causes, but that's all they needed to know?” I was blown away that these women cared so much about developing their community and giving.

That was an early indication of the kind of community Austin was going to be, and I was absolutely right.

How are you currently involved?
When I was approached to chair the 2019 Annual Campaign. I said no—I’ve been there, done that, there's got to be somebody else—but I decided I really want to help Austin get to that next level and develop a sustainable structure for our campaign where we can reach out to as many donors as possible and give them the opportunity to invest in our community.

What's in store for the 2019 Annual Campaign? What are your goals this year?
What I see as the role of campaign is to make sure that Shalom Austin is fully funded so we can fulfill all the needs of our growing Jewish community.

When I spoke last year at IGNITE!, I talked about the vitality and incredible community that we have. We have created a fire, we have ignited a flame. But you don't build a fire and then walk away from it. You have to constantly tend to it and you've got to replace the wood that burns. So I look at our campaign the exact same way—we've lit a flame but we can't walk away from it. We have to accept our responsibilities and tend to it and we will all be the beneficiaries of what we create.

We have some tremendous needs and there are a lot of programs we all want to see enacted and, whether it's more activities for our youth, whether it's taking care of our seniors, there's an endless list of programs we would all like to see happening, but it takes money. My job is to make sure we have the resources to do that and to hear from my community the different things they would like to see us doing.

I really want this to be an integrated campaign, so everybody who goes out to have the conversations to talk about the needs of our community will also know about Generations and endowments. We’ll be able to sit and talk to our donors about their total philanthropy in the Jewish community and help them decide what's the best way for them to make an impact.

My goal is also to make it very transparent as to where our dollars go, what the needs are, how we raise it and how we allocate the money out.

We have a vibrant and caring community. At the heart of Jewish Austin is Shalom Austin. It is the only organization that concerns itself with the health and vitality of the entire Jewish community. The key to the success of Shalom Austin is its dedicated and compassionate donors who invest time and resources to change the lives and improve conditions of our community. Because of Shalom Austin, we care for each other, prepare for the future and repair the world. This is your community; invest in yourself.

Why is being involved in the Jewish community and Shalom Austin so important to you?
It was taught to me by my parents who were very, very involved in the community of Wichita, Kansas, where I grew up. Growing up in Wichita was growing up in an American shtetl. It was a small community, with 300 families. We had no Federation as such. We had no Jewish Community Center. We had a synagogue and we had a temple, but Jewish life was entirely focused around that synagogue and temple and I was raised to care about the community, to care about Israel, to care about Jews everywhere.

I grew up that way and it has been my passion for life and it has added a tremendous amount to my life. That is something I would wish for anyone. To have life without a passion, I think, can be an empty life, an empty journey.

Why should others get involved?
I can think of no better place than to make sure that our Jewish community, with all its values that we have to pass on, is continued, and that we make it a place for our children to grow up.

That is what I wanted for my children. I knew they weren’t going to grow up in a city as small as Wichita, but I wanted them to grow up with what it meant to grow up in a Jewish community, with the caring love that comes from that. So I would highly recommend it. You won't think of it as work. You will only benefit from any amount of time that you spend.

This job is so important to me, but it really is not about the dollars. If you think of the dollars as lives that will be changed, that is what my mission is, to make sure that we continue to change lives, improve lives and repair lives in our own community.

I heard a few years ago of an elderly Jew who lived all alone in an apartment building. JFS found out about the senior, and the caseworker went to go and visit. When the caseworker got there, the woman started to cry because she thought she would never see another Jew.

This was because of the dollars we raised. We have a very active senior adults program at the JCC with activities almost every day of the week. They do not have to live out their lives isolated, away from the Jewish community.

How can you not want to make sure these programs not only continue but are expanded? That's why I do this.

Why has the Lion of Judah program been so important to you?
It has allowed me to be a part of a national network of women who share the same passion. Going to the International Lion of Judah Conference, making friends with Jewish women from all over the world and seeing the power and the changes that women can bring about in our Jewish lives.

One of my greatest joys recently was hearing that my daughter Jewel had made the decision to become a Lion of Judah. How proud that made me feel, knowing what she will get out of this and her life by doing good. That was huge.

You were recently selected to receive a Lion of Judah Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award. What does it mean to you to be honored with this prestigious international award?
Gratitude for my community. I do this, not for awards. I do it for no other reason than to be involved with the Jewish community, and it's caring for each other, kol yisrael, and repairing the world. That is who I am. It’s the way I was raised. Without that in my life, I don't think I would be the person I am.

This is what makes Jews so special. We're born with a responsibility of taking care of each other, making sure that our children are educated and living an ethical Jewish life. There's one thing about knowing, it's another about doing. So the fact that I'm being recognized for this amazing award is validity that what I've spent my life doing—trying to make sure that I fulfill what I feel is an obligation of anyone who is Jewish—has made a difference. ■

To participate in Women’s Philanthropy, including the Lion of Judah program, or the 2019 Annual Campaign, contact Amy Hyman at amy.hyman@shalomaustin.org or 512-735-8078.

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