2018-05-23 / Local News

Voorhees teen Sophia Sloves installed as USY’s new regional president


FAMILY: Parents Glenn and Juli; siblings Ben, 15, and Raquel, 12; grandparents Sam and Sheila Mandel

SYNAGOGUE: Cong. Beth El

AGE: 17

FAVORITE FOOD: Mac & cheese




From her first USY event during the eighth grade, Sophia Sloves felt immediately at home within the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s youth movement.

“Right when I started, I knew I wanted to do more,” explained Sophia, 17, who was installed as the president of USY’s Mizrach region for the 2018-19 year during the Mid-Atlantic Region Spring Convention in Princeton last month. The region consists of 13 chapters in the Delaware Valley and Eastern PA.

A camper at Camp Ramah in the Poconos since the fourth grade, Sophia could tell right away that USY was structured much like her beloved Conservative-movement camp—meaning that the focus was on friendships and fun in addition to promoting Jewish values and providing leadership development training. The Eastern High School junior also liked that she would have numerous opportunities to hang out with her camp friends year-round.

Shortly after that fateful event with the Beth El Voorhees chapter, Sophia got strategic. After figuring out the lay of the land, she mapped out her rise within the chapter and within Mizrach’s regional board. Her goal was no less than regional president. And like her mother Juli (Mandel) Sloves before her (the president of then Hagesher Region USY in 1985-86), the Eastern High School junior was willing to devote the time, energy and creativity it takes to rise up the ranks.

Fortunately, there is always a place in the youth movement for driven teens. From the get-go, she was asked to be the 8th grade representative to the chapter board, a job she eagerly accepted.

“It was a low-commitment position,” Sophia recalled. “I went to all chapter board meetings and was asked my opinions. I had a lot of opinions, so I really liked it.”

By ninth grade, she was eager to do more than merely give opinions. She became the chapter’s programming vice president and applied for regional general board’s membership and Kadima (focusing on programming for younger children) committees. This was a chance to plan events and get acquainted with USY on the regional level, she said.

By sophomore year, she was chapter president and also remained on the Kadima committee. That, she admits, was a lot of responsibility but so worth it.

“As president, there was no one in the chapter above me holding me accountable,” she explained. “I got a lot of hands-on experience writing programs and learning how to gear programming to get different kinds of kids interested.”

By her junior year, she shifted to a more regional role, taking the position of Social Action/Tikkun Olam vice president for the region. She oversaw fundraising, the planning of social-action events during regional conventions and stewardship of Mizrach donations to more than 62 charities. Then, mid-way through the year she took on additional responsibilities, becoming the development chair on the international general board.

With all this experience under her belt, Sophia already knows her focus as regional president will be in helping chapters draw in and engage new members as well as those on the periphery.

“When I was starting out on the chapter board, I was always the person who wanted to do more,” she noted. “I want leadership to be more accessible to everybody.”

Helping her with her mission is a seven-member executive board. Among the leaders she can count on are two others from South Jersey: Harris Jayson, Social Action/Tikkun Olam vice president, and Rebecca Raush, Israel Affairs vice president.

In addition, she has her family in her corner. Her brother Ben is already on the chapter board and sister Raquel is poised to join next year when she’s finally eligible as an eighth-grader. Rounding out the pit team, her mother Juli is Beth El’s Youth Commission chair for the chapter. And while her father is not involved in USY per se, he sets a good example as service chair of Friends of Jewish Senior Housing and Healthcare Service (JSHHS), an agency of the Jewish Federation.

Quite naturally, Juli is proud of her oldest daughter and reliving some of her own USY memories through her children’s involvement.

“USY had a bigger footprint when I was in it,” she noted. “But even if the region is smaller, the feelings and the impact hasn’t changed. Watching her during the installation (ceremony), seeing the emotions the kids were experiencing as the seniors graduated and new kids came onto the board, that was the same. I feel so completely connected to everything they are experiencing and it’s so inspiring.” 

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