Growing up in North Woodmere, Long Island, Slovie Wolff was a member of the community’s only Orthodox family. Her father, Rabbi Meshulem Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, was the rav of Congregation Ohr Torah, which he founded along with his wife, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, in order to bring Yiddishkeit to unaffiliated Jews in the area. Young Slovie and her two brothers and sister grew up in what she calls “a teaching home” that was constantly filled with guests, people seeking assistance or a listening ear, and Jews new to observance who were affiliated with Hineni, the rebbetzin’s outreach organization, who would come to glean wisdom from the Jungreises. In those early years, Slovie’s passion for teaching grew. Slovie never had any complicated feelings about being the daughter and granddaughter of very public figures.
One reason for this was the clear sense of purpose with which her parents imbued her from the time she was very young. Slovie understood from her parents’ example that she had a job to do in this life, and part of that job was being of service to the people around her. “It’s not about getting, it’s about giving. And even the youngest child can do that,” she says. As Slovie grew older, married and raised her family, she taught for Hineni. Then, 20 years ago, some of the young couples affiliated with the organization and whose marriages had been arranged by Rebbetzin Jungreis approached Slovie with a question: “Does the Torah have anything to say about parenting and marriage?” In response, Slovie started a new class. From her first session, Slovie says, “it just grew into my life!” Her students, drawn by her warmth, earnestness and enthusiasm, began spreading word about her powerful classes. As couples brought other couples and friends brought other friends, attendance mushroomed. Then, when some of the families moved from the city out to suburbia, Slovie was invited to their homes to teach there.
Slovie now gives weekly classes in different homes throughout the New York area, including Westchester, Manhattan, Long Island, and Brooklyn, and she also does a monthly live call-in show for MetroImma, in which Jewish parents can ask her questions. Last summer, Slovie gave a live teleconference parenting course with Jewish e-books to parents worldwide (a new edition is in the works), and she writes articles on parenting and marriage for aish.com.In 2008, at the behest of her students and with the encouragement of her husband, Mendy, and her mother, Slovie wrote Raising a Child with Soul. She now lectures internationally in communities around the world, reaching out to families of all types with a style reminiscent of her mother’s, delivering gentle yet earnest messages with a smile. One thing Slovie has found after teaching Jews of all backgrounds, both in communities densely populated with frum families and in those that don’t even have a shul, is that no matter what a family’s level of observance, the Torah’s guidance applies to everyone. “Whether it’s a frum community or a secular community where people are growing, many of the issues that we face as couples and parents are the same. The solution has to come from the Torah. When I go with that, it really is universal.” Slovie’s work with families begins from the ground up, guiding new couples as they lay the foundations for a strong marriage, helping them reinforce the structure as children enter the picture and later, encouraging families to strengthen their connections by working toward common goals.
One of the most important keys to transmitting Torah values to our children, she maintains, is to keep our own tanks filled. “It’s very difficult today raising children on a derech,” she says, “and we ourselves need to have that derech in order to give it over to the next generation.” (This certainly applies to the next generation of the Jungreis family; Slovie’s daughter is now running the Israeli branch of Hineni in Yerushalayim.) One of the many unique projects that Slovie spearheads is acting as a “shadchan” between frum families and non-frum families, using one of the fundamental tenets of her parenting classes: “Whatever Hashem gives us, we have a responsibility to make the world better with it.” After Hurricane Sandy, which left Slovie’s community of Lawrence and the greater Five Towns devastated, Slovie gave one of her non-observant families a challenge. A frum family that Slovie knew had lost their parnasah because of the hurricane (they ran a preschool in their basement) and were in great need. How could the non-observant family be of help? Slovie’s friends, whose contact with Orthodox Jews extended no further than Slovie, arrived at the wrecked home armed with boxes of clothing, toys, linens, blankets and kitchen goods, and refurbished the house. Both the parents and children were involved in this chesed, which was a defining experience for the whole family.
Meanwhile, the frum family felt that while they had received an immeasurable kindness, they also had the opportunity to create a Kiddush Hashem by having a positive, loving interaction with people who had limited exposure to the Orthodox world. “It’s not just learning about chesed,” Slovie says, “but living chesed. [And] we learn the meaning of areivus (mutual responsibility).” Encouraging her students to reach out to others, Slovie feels, is the most potent antidote to the most dangerous epidemic plaguing the young generation—the “Me” syndrome. “We break selfcenteredness,” says Slovie, “by learning to sweat for another person.” After two decades of teaching, Slovie is still getting nachas from the many families she’s touched. “I feel very privileged to do what I love,” she says, “which is to see lives transformed.”