A Mother’s Day Gift Defined by Leadership, Legacy at Congregation Beth El


Could there be a better Mother’s Day gift than watching your child follow the same path that defined your own life? That’s what Juli Mandel Sloves recently received from her daughter.

Sophia Sloves, a 17-year-old junior at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, New Jersey, and a member of Congregation Beth El, late last month was elected the president of USY Mizrach region, which covers the Delaware Valley and west to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Mizrach, Hebrew for “to the East,” was chosen as the new name last fall after two regions, Sophia’s Hagesher and Eastern Pennsylvania, merged in 2016. Sophia’s accomplishment is worth celebrating in its own right, though all the more impressive because it’s the same office, Hagesher regional president, Juli held 33 years earlier. That’s a mother-daughter feat Corey Bass, who oversees Mizrach USY, said he hasn’t heard of before.

“It’s possible that there have been others, but it’s the first one I know of,” Bass, USCJ’s assistant regional teen engagement director, said in an interview.

Juli, who owns JMSloves Communications LLC, said she was introverted and lacking in confidence when she got involved with USY as a high-school freshman “because someone asked me to.”

Life’s Trajectory

“I encourage kids to do the same thing today, because you never know who’s going to say yes,” said Juli, Beth El’s Youth Commission chair. “I really think my time in USY changed the trajectory of my life. That may sound dramatic, but it’s true.”

Juli said she was amazed at how easy it was to make friends in USY, something she feels has remained true for the youth group in the decades that have followed. This led her to take on increasing leadership roles and ultimately, with the advice of her dad, Sam, she decided to run for regional president. The focus of her campaign speech was friendship. “I’ve written many speeches for many, many people since then,” she said. “It’s interesting how that was the first one.”

Unlike her mom (and perhaps thanks to her mom), Sophia has always been outgoing, confident and in touch with her Jewish identity. Still, she says, she didn’t know what opportunities USY held until she got involved.

“It’s weird to think about the person I was in eighth grade, not even knowing USY had leadership opportunities,” she said. “It’s really helped me not only find a passion for Judaism and Jewish culture, but find a strong voice as a writer and a speaker. It’s helped me find my voice as a leader.”

Sophia’s Day

Leadership was one of the elements of Sophia’s own speech on April 22, when she was installed to her new position. Juli was at the event with her husband, Glenn, and shed some tears, feeling excited for the incoming board and saddened for the outgoing leaders.

“It felt like walking into a memory,” Juli said. “It was just the same, in the best way.”

Three members of Beth El’s chapter are on the Mizrach board, a testament to the importance of USY at the Voorhees synagogue, said Rabbi Aaron Krupnick. In fact, just this year, Beth El invited Sophia to speak to its adult board and plans to have a USY representative do so more regularly.

“We actually heard the idea at the USCJ convention,” Rabbi Krupnick said in an interview. “An international USY board member had spoken about how it should be a priority. We realized he was right, and we did it.”

It’s important to place leadership opportunities in front of teens, challenging what they think they can do, said Juli. That was true in the 1980s and it remains so today, she said.

Igniting Leaders

“It shows that you can really ignite something in teens,” she said. “It changed everything for me, and those opportunities are still relevant.”

And while the legacy Juli now shares with her daughter is impressive, the ladder is even longer than that.

It’s also Mother’s Day for Juli’s mom, Sheila, who along with Sam raised five kids at Beth El and still sings in the congregation’s adult choir. Sophia’s election may be most treasured by Sheila, said Rabbi Krupnick.

“It’s a tremendous present, for Sheila Mandel especially, to see that all of her hard work and dedication to Jewish life continues to pass from one generation to the next,” Rabbi Krupnick said. “Not in a sense of obligation, but in a sense of joy.”

It’s a gift that keeps on giving.


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