2019 Community Award Recipients Discuss Influences that IGNITE! Their Jewish Leadership

2019 Community Award Recipients Discuss Influences that IGNITE! Their Jewish Leadership

Nora Lieberman, Ian Spechler and Julie Franklin will be honored at IGNITE! April 14 with a 2019 Community Award. Credit: Dave Hawks

Community leaders Julie Franklin, Nora Lieberman and Ian Spechler have demonstrated true commitment to strengthening Shalom Austin and the greater Jewish community. Each will be honored at IGNITE! April 14 with a 2019 Community Award. These three leaders explained the experiences that have driven and shaped their involvement.

Julie Franklin

Julie has been named the 2019 Hymie and Louise Samuelson Young Leadership Award recipient. Previously awarded at the Shalom Austin Annual Meeting, the Hymie and Louise Samuelson Young Leadership Award recognizes an emerging young leader, around 25 to 40 years old, who has demonstrated care and commitment to the Jewish community.

How did you become involved with Austin's Jewish community?
I honestly cannot quite remember a time living in Austin when I was not involved with Shalom Austin in some capacity - whether socially, volunteering, or even as a staff member. I have to consciously think back, and I suppose my earliest involvement began when I attended YAD Milestone with my friends, Shabbat dinners and other young adult opportunities at the time, and my participation evolved from there.

What was the most pivotal moment in your Jewish journey?
It is difficult to pinpoint one moment; rather I value multiple Jewish experiences and look forward to more. Some that do stick out right away are my bat mitzvah and summers at Greene Family Camp learning prayers and songs and meeting cabin mates who have become my dear friends for decades. And of course, meeting my husband, Ari, at a YAD Hanukkah party, standing under our wedding chuppah listening to Rabbi Neil Blumofe chant the Seven Blessings, and then having our family and friends support us as we welcomed our sons into the covenant through their bris and naming ceremonies. Those are truly some of my most remarkable Jewish life circle moments.

What does being a Jewish leader mean to you?
It is important I create a positive and inclusive environment for anyone who wants to contribute. I want to represent our Jewish community in an honorable way, while ensuring we not only continue through the generations, but also thrive.

What is the No. 1 reason you are involved with Shalom Austin?
Hillel said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?" I enjoy being involved. I am energized by my involvement and the incredible ideas and dialogue I experience when I meet with other engaged Jewish leaders. This is my community, my family’s community, and it is an honor to be involved, especially with the growth and development of such an educated, energetic and creative city.

What would you say to someone who is thinking of getting involved with Shalom Austin?
Shalom Austin is a gigantic, unique umbrella that covers an extraordinary amount of programming and activities. It can be daunting and overwhelming to take your first step toward involvement. Find one aspect that interests you and get started there. And if something doesn’t exist? Start it yourself! This is a wonderful community open to your choice of involvement whether it is time, money or ideas. Being involved does not mean the same for everyone, so take your most comfortable first step and make the call, send the email to a staff member, or reach out to a friend who can guide you in the right direction.

Nora Lieberman

Nora has been named the 2019 Woman of Valor. Previously awarded at the Mosaic Luncheon, the Eshet Chayil/Woman of Valor award is presented to a Jewish woman who has proven to be a leader in the community. Stemming from a hymn in the Book of Proverbs, this woman is recognized as an openly giving and compassionate person who is committed to the cause of the Jewish people and Israel. This outstanding woman is a role model to others and inspires women to positively impact Jewish communities, in Austin and across the world.

How did you become involved with Austin's Jewish community?
Like so many other families, I became involved with the Jewish community in Austin initially through the JCC Early Childhood Program when my children were very young. There was a fantastic community that welcomed us in. We joined a synagogue, which gave me opportunities to meet wonderful, caring people, as well. We have made friends who became our family in town. Austin became the most wonderful city we could imagine for ourselves.

What was the most pivotal moment in your Jewish journey?
There have been so many moments in my Jewish journey that have enriched my life. When Allen and I had children I felt it was my responsibility to them to teach them about the beauty and the importance of their heritage and community. I decided then that I could give them a home with Jewish values, but Jewish life also revolves around a local community and connection to Israel. I have focused so much of my energy on helping with that.

What does being a Jewish leader mean to you?
A Jewish leader takes others with them as they build community. I am inspired by the leaders who live their Jewish values, give what they can with open hearts, and always roll up their sleeves to help when needed. Leaders learn from others around them and understand that as things change they have to help navigate new strategies. A leader cares about what is happening now but also sees the need for ensuring a strong Jewish future. Austin Is filled with caring, smart, generous leadership.

What is the No. 1 reason you are involved with Shalom Austin? What other organization allows you to perpetuate a vibrant Jewish life in Austin and make a true difference in Israel and around the globe?
Shalom Austin gives me the chance to be involved with an incredible group of people, from the dynamic professional staff to other volunteers. There has been so much that has been given to me and my family by being a part of Shalom Austin. I love having opportunities to contribute to this wonderful community. I truly feel that we are all an extended family, and we need to take care of each other. Shalom Austin makes that happen for all of us.

What would you say to someone who is thinking of getting involved with Shalom Austin?
Don’t hesitate! What are you passionate about? There are so many ways to get involved. Shalom Austin is such a wonderful place that offers something for everyone from Jewish education classes and programs, to fitness and sports, to arts and culture, to seniors and families with children. The more you give, the more you get back.

Ian Spechler

Ian is the 2019 recipient of the Joe Krassner Campaign Leadership Award. Previously awarded at the Shalom Austin Annual Meeting and most recently at Momentum: Men’s Night Out, the Joe Krassner Campaign Leadership Award is in honor and memory of a man who cared deeply about the growing Jewish community in Austin. It is presented to a man that cares about community-building, leadership development, networking and philanthropy.

How did you become involved with Austin's Jewish community?
Growing up, I had great Jewish leadership influences. My mother has always been active in her community. She has demonstrated by example the importance of volunteering in the Jewish community from the time my sisters and I were kids. My grandmother retired three years ago after spending 60 years as a Hebrew school teacher in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. She actually taught herself Hebrew as an adult before turning around and inspiring multiple generations of fourth-graders.

With those influences and under the inspiring leadership of Margo Sack and Rabbi David Kessel, I became a member of the Student Executive Cabinet of Texas Hillel as an undergraduate at the University of Texas. I then was co-president of the Jewish Legal Society at the University of Texas School of Law. When I graduated law school and was lucky enough to receive a Skadden Fellowship to remain in Austin representing children with disabilities at Disability Rights Texas, Dana Epstein reached out to me and encouraged me to become part of YAD. I served on the YAD board for five years with some great young leaders who have since became vital parts of the Shalom Austin community.

I also took part in the first class of JLead, Shalom Austin's emerging leadership development program for young adults, and was blessed to learn from amazing teachers and classmates what it means to be a leader in the Austin Jewish community. Around that time, I met Lawrence Maze, who was then chair of the Jewish Family Service cabinet and had an inspiring vision for JFS and its potential impact on all members of the Jewish community. He encouraged me to become a JFS cabinet member and my involvement in Shalom Austin took off from there.

What was the most pivotal moment in your Jewish journey?
It is difficult to reduce my journey to a single moment. I have been lucky to have so many amazing experiences and to learn from so many fantastic mentors. However, I think my experience on Birthright Israel was a pivotal moment. I attended during winter break of my junior year of college and it was my first time in Israel. I met Jews from around the world and, even though we had such different life experiences, we instantly felt like family. I learned that being Jewish meant being part of a worldwide community, a lesson that only seemed abstract before my 10-day trip. I was inspired to get back to UT and do all I could for my Jewish community. Fortunately, that passion for serving my fellow Jews has continued to this day.

What does being a Jewish leader mean to you?
Midrash teaches that Jewish leaders must be humble, because Moses was humble. Pirkei Avot teaches that a wise person is the person who learns from others. I think it is also true of any good Jewish leader. Shalom Austin leaders are privileged to be surrounded by brilliant and accomplished community members and professionals. Jewish leadership is not about knowing all the answers. Rather, it is about creating an inclusive environment, learning from other community members, and channeling the skills and ideas of fellow Central Texans toward the benefit of all members of our community.

What is the No. 1 reason you are involved with Shalom Austin?
The No. 1 reason I am involved is how much I love it. I am inspired to be part of a worldwide Jewish community, to follow in my family's tradition of strong Jewish communal leadership, to give back to a community that has given me so much. But all of that pales in comparison to how happy it makes me to study Jewish texts or work through complicated issues affecting our community with some of my best friends. I met my amazing wife, Shay Millheiser, at a YAD event and we were married at B'Nai Abraham on the Shalom Austin campus. I have made lifelong friends and found amazing teachers and role models on Hart Lane. ■

Show your love and support for these incredible community leaders by making a tribute gift. Please visit www.shalomaustin.org/ignitetributes or call 512-735-8034.

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