Meeting Leslie for our interview felt like a reunion with a dear friend. As an added bonus, Leslie brought along her life partner, her husband Isaac. We first connected in June 2022 at my editor’s suggestion. Leslie is an extremely sensitive, intuitive, and caring person, and she sensed that something was off in my life. She suggested that we delay the interview. Leslie was spot on. My husband was preparing for a kidney transplant, with our adult daughter Sarah, as his donor. Baruch Hashem, the transplant was successful, and both are thriving.
Leslie became a strong source of support for me, checking in and offering hizuk.
Writing this column and sharing our women’s life stories bring me much joy and insights.
Back to Leslie. Leslie is a successful and talented Registered Nurse (RN) and a community health educator and advocate. Her journey to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse wasn’t a linear one.
Leslie, of Syrian descent, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Ceilia and Irving Mahana. Her parents were American and her father served in the U.S. Army during WWII. “Both my parents encouraged education.” Her mother was very supportive and said that education was the best way to go forward in whatever one loves to do. Leslie’s mother was an educated woman, who worked, prayed, and always kept Shabbat. The family moved to Brooklyn when Leslie was four years old.
Leslie is the second of five children, four girls and a boy. Her siblings enjoy careers in teaching, special education, and psychology, and her sister Jacqueline Gemal is also an RN. Leslie’s siblings were a source of inspiration for her, and Jacqueline supported Leslie in her quest to become a nurse.
A friendly and outgoing child and a serious academic student, Leslie attained honors throughout her school years. She attended public school during the day and Talmud Torah at Congregation Shaare Zion in the afternoon. In Abraham Lincoln High School, Leslie belonged to the Arista Honor Society, Civic Club, and Sing. “I was always involved with family and community and was happy and ready to pitch in and help.”
Leslie participated in and cherished the closeness of Friday night Mizrachi Group meetings, where rabbis and guest speakers gave inspirational talks on Judaism and moral issues.
Leslie is a spiritual woman who has immense faith, trust, and belief in Hashem. She describes herself as knowledgeable, hard-working, friendly, devoted, and focused. She is dedicated to what matters most to her, her family, and Hashem. Always willing to share her wisdom to help others, Leslie is a lifelong learner.
Leslie expressed how truly grateful and blessed she feels. “You will see through my journey how my prayers to Hashem and my religious upbringing helped me reach a clear understanding of my life.”
Marriage and Family
Leslie married her husband Isaac Sultan in February 1967. Isaac, a college graduate, fully supported Leslie’s desire for further education. “Isaac, a truly kind man really meant what he said and I went to college and nursing school while raising our family. Our trust and love grew.”
Isaac and Leslie have two daughters, Valerie Mirwis and Celeste Mishaan, both educated at Hillel Yeshiva Elementary and High School. “We wanted them to never lose sight of their religion and where they came from. We told them each, ‘Be a giver. We come from a beautiful community and wherever you live, use your skills, talent, time, energy, money, or resources to give back to community and society.’” Valerie and Celeste are both college-educated.
Leslie’s Journey to Become a Nurse
Why Nursing? When Leslie was fourteen, she volunteered in the summer at a Jersey Shore hospital. That experience and her care and concern for others provided the impetus for Leslie to go into nursing. “I was able to help patients where needed, bring food trays, feed patients, read to those who were alone… I was comfortable with the hospital environment.”
Leslie and Isaac’s oldest daughter, Valerie, was born in April 1969 and Leslie loved being a mom. She started her college courses at night when Isaac was home. When Celeste was born in June 1973, Leslie continued her college courses. Isaac was an invaluable partner and was always there for her.
Leslie arranged her classes around her daughters’ yeshiva schedule, always taking them off the school bus.
The couple moved to Ocean Township, NJ, in 1976, in the middle of Leslie’s studies. She continued her nursing classes at Brookdale Community College.
The following year when their girls were eight and four, Isaac was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Their lives changed dramatically with Isaac requiring surgery and chemotherapy. Leslie took a leave from her nursing studies and spent her days at the hospital in Manhattan, racing back to NJ to be there for her children when they came home from school. “I didn’t want my young girls to know anything was wrong. I had to tune everything else out and be there for Isaac and our daughters. Praying, crying, and talking my heart out to Hashem that we would be okay really helped. I felt like I was on a roller coaster and only Hashem could help, and Hashem did. Over time Hashem solidified Isaac’s recovery. We slowly moved forward.”
Leslie resumed her nursing studies at night and balanced school with taking care of her family. She did clinicals during the day when her children were in school full time. Leslie graduated with an RN license in 1982.
She first worked as an RN at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC) in diverse units: Medical/Surgical, Labor/Delivery, Nursery, and Community Health. Keeping Shabbat as a hospital nurse was challenging. Nurses are required to work alternate weekends. “As an Orthodox Jew this would not work for me. Shabbat is Hashem’s day. I valued my religion and knew that Hashem was there for me, and I will be there to serve and praise Him.”
Leslie bravely went to speak to an MMC trustee and negotiated a schedule where she would have Shabbat off.
After fourteen years at MMC, Leslie left to continue her studies at Monmouth College and earned her bachelor’s degree at SUNY.
Leslie pivoted to community health work and education and taught healthcare, illness and injury prevention, and environmental issues. “This work is so rewarding as it enhances people’s lives, safeguards their health, and reduces hospital admissions.”
She currently works at two community high schools and is responsible for health records, immunizations, reporting to the Health Department, screenings, medications, and treatments.
Leslie gives her diverse classes both privately and to organizations, and volunteers at health fairs.
Leslie is a CPR instructor. She is so gratified that many of her former CPR students have saved lives. She teaches AED (automated external defibrillator), infant care for new mothers, breast cancer detection, first aid and preventing home injuries. She’s thrilled when she sees her students “really get it.” Leslie advises new moms to “look at your home from your child’s perspective. Your child finds the penny under the couch to put into her mouth.”
I asked Leslie and Isaac what they think drives the Sephardic community’s strong commitment to hesed. They both responded, “Unity! From unity comes blessings.” Isaac explained that the first Syrian settlers who came to the U.S. in the early 1900s were very dependent on each other. Those who succeeded shared their wealth and knowledge with others and helped them open businesses.
Leslie noted that when a community member needs expensive emergency surgery, donations pour in immediately. Both Leslie and Isaac credit Rabbi Jacob Kassin, zt”l with infusing the community with the zeal to help other members when medical emergencies arise.
Passions and Pursuits
Leslie’s passion is her family – Isaac, her daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, great- grandchildren, and extended family. Professionally, she is dedicated to helping people keep their health at an optimal level and she enjoys teaching a variety of classes.
Leslie always loved being a mom, and being involved in her children’s daily care, school life, and the pleasures of having her own family. “Isaac and I were on the same team with the same dream. We enjoyed watching our daughters experience their school activities such as school plays and science fairs. As they got older, we journeyed to Israel, Mexico, Cape Canaveral, Orlando, DC, and NYC. Everything was fun and a learning experience.”
Isaac and Leslie are approaching their 56th wedding anniversary. They recommend: “Be each other’s best friend and be on the same team. And always have trust in Hashem.”
Reading is her personal quiet time activity. Leslie also enjoys playing Mahjong. Isaac and Leslie love to travel in the U.S. and around the globe.
Advice for Future Nurses
“Your journey may have its challenges but persevere and always have faith in Hashem and give back to your community.”
Feel free to connect with Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org.