Fueled by Ethics and Education
"If you want to do something bad enough, you will, even if you have to eat cold biscuits to do so."
But that’s just a few highlights from his lifetime of experiences.
Sugarman’s life has always been set apart by a deep devotion to helping others, regardless of the circumstances. Through his education and life experiences, he’s found himself not just meeting spiritual leaders like the Dali Lama, but becoming one as well. He’s built a legacy that inspires and has enriched the lives of countless others.
Even with a business career of exceptional achievements, the Atlanta native hasn’t retired. In fact, he says he’s still in sales and marketing.
“I’ve moved from a tangible product to the ultimate intangible product — God,” he said.
Sugarman said his diverse experiences serve him exceptionally well, from his early years taking orders for school supplies in an Alabama garage to time as a stationery salesman. Through it all he made sure to go the extra mile and gain perspective.
Sugarman now feels empowered to do something impactful, fulfilling and meaningful.
"I wanted to make a million dollars and give it all away.”
It took a lifetime of being resourceful, humorous, resilient and insightful to become the man he is today. He credits his family for the foundation of his character.
“My mom died when I was 5, and my father did a phenomenal job but he suffered from a mental illness, so his older brother was my second father and my aunt was a second mother to me,” he said. “My aunt, I remember her telling me once ‘if you want to do something bad enough, you will, even if you have to eat cold biscuits to do so.’”
They ate their share. There were lean and fruitful times in his childhood.
Sugarman said his aunt was an ideal role model, both tender and fierce. In the 1940s, at the age of 65, she went to college to get her degree. It was an unconventional move, but she graduated and proved a point — if you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way. Age was nothing but a number for her. The act sealed an attitude of lifelong learning for Sugarman he hasn’t abandoned.
“My uncle, her brother, was the kindest, most giving man,” Sugarman said. “He was constantly giving of himself to anyone who needed help. I remember my dad telling me, ‘Don’t be like me, be like your Uncle Sam,’ so I decided to go to business school so I could be able to financially support my family and help others like he did — and I wanted to make a million dollars and give it all away.”
"If there’s a common thread through all the courses and disciplines, it was an unspoken dedication to being an ethical force."
Today, now Rabbi Sugarman is passionate about his work and helping others. The value of his life has far exceeded any monetary measure. Sugarman helped create a shelter for homeless couples in the area. The shelter eventually grew into a new building and obtained nonprofit status and set the example for other organizations to follow. It ultimately expanded to include an addition for abandon newborns.
Sugarman found substantial success in business, rising through the ranks of the stationery business to become an advertising and sales expert. But it wasn’t everything he wanted or needed. He wanted to go beyond business and build a bridge to meet his life’s calling.
Many don’t consider Rabbi Sugarman a business boss. He’s faced the typical assumptions of what a rabbi could know or do with grace, even in the face of dismissive and ironic comments that might set a less-confident soul back. Some, perhaps not knowing his past, dismiss him as not understanding “the real world.”
Alas, Sugarman has many hats he can wear. He takes such comments as opportunities not slights. These are chances to show he knows the real world and how it can apply to teaching his faith.
So you’ll find him often with a stocked briefcase of materials.
Even though he graduated 58 years ago, Sugarman points to classwork and mentorship that inspired his desire to give.
“If there’s a common thread through all the courses and disciplines, it was an unspoken dedication to being an ethical force,” he said. “It wasn’t ever spoken, it was just part of the whole culture and it resonated with the professors and with us — and I think that’s what made the difference in helping us to reach our full potential.”