A Sense Of Pride

Forty-three percent of Israeli Jews consider their lives “so-so,” according to the 2013 Democracy Index published by the Israel Democracy Institute on Oct. 6.

The annual report, which takes the pulse of Israeli Jews and Arabs, was conducted between April 8 and May 2 and included 1,000 respondents. According to the IDI, the maximum sampling error is 3.2 percent.

The report’s findings come in stark opposition to happenings in the United States, where the government remains shut down largely over the Affordable Care Act. It was reported that 64 percent of Israelis believe that it is important to narrow socioeconomic gaps even if it means paying more taxes.

Professor Tamar Hermann, who oversaw the study as head of the IDI, said, “The origins of the Israeli state were loaded with the socialist perception, and actually, the generation that contributed the most to the construction of the Israeli narrative and self-image were those in the Second Aliyah who came from Russia and were heavily influenced by the various socialist parties and movements there.”

Hermann said the idea that the state should be deeply involved with the well-being of the individual is something “ingrained in Israeli society.” She said that in contrast to the United States and some European countries, Israel is more in line with places such as Scandinavia and Finland. And she noted that many who move to Israel jump on the communal bandwagon rather than influence Israeli society.

“I think Americans who move here tend to change their views under the influence of overall Israeli society,” said Hermann.

Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent and analyst for the Jerusalem Post, told the JT that Israelis pay income tax of around 40 percent.

Other important findings: Israeli Jews continue to put their trust in the Israel Defense Force first (91 percent), whereas Israeli-Arabs focus on the Supreme Court (50 percent) and the media (48 percent).

Hoffman said the IDF is always at the top of these types of studies because “there is no institution that unifies Israeli Jews more than the IDF.”

Hoffman told the JT that Israeli Jews are becoming “increasingly cohesive” and that while he would not consider Israel to be racist, “the way in which they [Israelis] can show solidarity with their fellow Jews is by liking the institutions that are uniquely Israeli Jewish.”

Why the media? Neither Hermann nor Hoffman had an answer — and neither did David Pollock, Kaufman fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He said, however, “These are two completely different populations that live in the same city but have different identities. [These people] have been subject for generations to very acute conflict. I think it is remarkable that there is as much agreement as there is about anything between them.”

This year, the report found that 40 percent of Israeli-Arabs feel a sense of pride about living in Israel, down 5 percent from the previous year. Hermann says she thinks this is a response to a decision by the government to push for legislation that increases the Jewish focus of the state, as opposed to the democratic. For example, she noted, there is discussion about removing Arabic from the list of national languages.

“One of the most striking findings is that half of Jewish respondents said Jewish citizens should have more citizen rights than non-Jewish people,” explained Hermann. “Non-Jews means Arabs — this is unheard of in a democratic state.”

But Hoffman and Pollock said they feel otherwise. Rather, Hoffman said he believes the government strives to be equal but that a parliamentary democracy is “inherently discriminatory” against minorities. Pollock said that given the situation on the ground, he thinks that 40 percent is “remarkably high.”

Within the Jewish public, 37 percent believe that the Jewish character and democratic character of Israel are equally important, 32 percent assign greater priority to the Jewish element, and 29 percent give greater weight to the democratic nature. At the same time, 75 percent of the Jewish public believes that the State of Israel can simultaneously be both a Jewish state and a democratic state.

And the Jews are more likely to get their way, as Israelis remain engaged and involved with politics, 72 percent; only 60 percent of Israeli-Arabs are interested in politics.

Cha, Cha, Cha … Ole!

It was opening night at the Club Hatikvah on Sunday, Oct. 6, and members of Chizuk Amuno who are over the age of 50 took to the dance floor for a spectacular evening of … Spanish! Flamenco guitarist Marija Temo and flamenco dancer Anna Menendez entertained. Both have appeared with many symphony orchestras, including the BSO. The evening was complete with Spanish cuisine and décor.

Carol S. Davis, president of Club Hatikvah, said these events — and there are six throughout the year — are an excellent chance for members to spend a Sunday evening together and to renew old friendships and make new ones.

Do you want to get involved? For membership or reservations for future events, contact Davis at 410-833-7673 or carolgildavis@aol.com or Leonard Fox at 410-484-6260 or foxel@verizon.net.

Sizzling Fun At The Firehouse

The Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company held its inaugural Craft Beer and Food Pairing event, in partnership with Zeffert & Gold Catering and Max’s Taphouse of Fells Point, on Oct. 10 from 6 to 10 p.m.

The event, which brought out hundreds of people, benefited PVFC, one of the busiest fire and emergency medical services volunteer fire companies in Baltimore County.

PVFC’s fire truck apparatus bays lent a unique industrial feel to this upscale special event. Attendees drank craft beers from around the globe, which were paired with delicious gourmet food from different regions and prepared in front of guests. Fire trucks were replaced by seven food-and-beer stations, each with two or three foods and two or three beers paired together. It was red-hot fun for all!

At The Helm

If installed, Janet Yellen will be the third consecutive Jewish central bank chairperson. (Provided)

If installed, Janet Yellen will be the third consecutive Jewish central bank chairperson. (Provided)

Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, has been nominated as the central bank’s next chairwoman.

President Barack Obama made the announcement last week.

If confirmed by the Senate, Yellen. 67, would succeed Ben Bernanke, be the first woman to hold that position and be the third consecutive Jewish economist to head the Federal Reserve. Bernanke, who is set to step down in January after serving since February 2006, had succeeded Alan Greenspan. While the math is in her favor — Democrats control the Senate and need to pick up only six Republican votes to clear any procedural roadblocks and secure her nomination — that doesn’t mean she will not have to endure some tough questions. One conservative group already has launched a campaign to stop Yellen from becoming the next head, arguing her confirmation would lead to an expansion of easy-money policies that would cause prices to soar.

Obama had favored his first Treasury secretary, Lawrence Summers, for the job. Summers, who also is Jewish, pulled out because of opposition among Senate Democrats who blame his policies favoring deregulation for slowing the economic recovery.

Jonathan Wright, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University, worked with Yellen in the Federal Reserve. He said he expects her to follow mostly in Bernanke’s vein. He described Yellen as “a very strong academic scholar in macro and labor economics, but she also has the political skills to be an excellent Fed chairman.”

Wright said there are hopes that Yellen will maintain the low inflation rate but also focus on improving the labor market.

“She may be more active in reducing unemployment,” he said, noting that Yellen cannot operate in a vacuum and that her role is more about “nudging and leaning the committee.”

He said she will not be making any decisions unilaterally, and there is expected to be some new, “hawkish” board members.

“She will be starting with a dep-leted team and with adversaries,” Wright said.

The big focus, of course, is how Yellen will handle her role as a woman; she is the first ever to fill such a role.

Wright said it is remarkable how few women there are in finance and central banking positions.

“She is the first [woman] to be a leader of any central bank in any major industrialized economy,” Wright noted. He said in some countries women are not even on their governing councils.

Yellen grew into her role over the last 40 years. The current deficit in higher-ranking women in finance, Wright said, is likely a reflection of the attitudes of the 1970s and early 1980s. Still, he said, while things have changed to some extent, only about one-third of finance undergraduates at Johns Hopkins are women. And, he noted, it is not projected that many of the women who start out in finance will stick with it.

“Times are certainly changing, but it is still true that there is a problem that there are too few,” said Wright. “Quite a few women start out in careers in finance, they do that as undergraduates, and then somehow they don’t seem to move on to the most senior ranks. It is too soon to see if that will be true for this [current] generation.”

Yellen and her husband, George Akerlof, a 2001 Nobel economics laureate, were active in the Bay Area Jewish community when Akerlof taught at the University of California, Berkeley.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — mjaffe@jewishtimes.com. JTA Wire Service contributed to this article.

Lenny Krayzelburg, Operation Exodus Olympian

Lenny Krayzelburg interacts with youth at last weekend’s The Journey, Together program. (Jennifer Siegel)

Lenny Krayzelburg interacts with youth at last weekend’s The Journey, Together program.
(Jennifer Siegel)

As part of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s The Journey, Together: 25 Years after Operation Exodus celebration, the Rosenbloom Owings Mills Jewish Community Center hosted four-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg on Sunday, Oct. 13. Krayzelburg conducted a competitive swimming clinic at the JCC Aquatic Center. He also shared his life’s story, including his family’s move from the Former Soviet Union to the United States in 1988 as part of the Operation Exodus program, which raised funds to settle more than one million Soviet Jews in Israel and North America.

With soggy attire and a grin of satisfaction, Krayzelburg, 38, spoke with the JT about his experience.

JT: How was your family helped by Operation Exodus?
Krayzelburg:
Being a Jewish family in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and early 1980s, we dreamed of coming to the United States. In 1988, when Premier Mikhail Gorbachev allowed Jews to leave, we were fortunate to get an exit visa. But before we could move to the U.S., we had to have a sponsor. Luckily, we had family and friends in Los Angeles. So when I was 13 years old, with the help of Operation Exodus, my family and I started our new life in West Hollywood, Calif. Without Operation Exodus, our relocation to the United States would not have happened.

Were you a competitive swimmer at age 13?
I began swimming at the age of 5. My formal training began at age 9 when I was part of a club team, which in the Soviet Union was known as an Army team. I practiced five hours a day, and so my formal training began long before we came to the United States. Once we made it to Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to find a wonderful swimming program at the Westside Jewish Community Center. The coaches and my teammates there remained helpful to me even after I went on to the University of Southern California and then to the 2000 United States Olympic team. I am still involved in a number of projects there to this day.

Tell the JT about your swimming accomplishments.
Prior to going to the Olympics in 1999, I broke the 50-, 100- and 200-meter world records while swimming for the U.S. I also achieved the title of top backstroke swimmer in the world. That put a target on me as I headed into the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. I won three gold medals at those Games, including all of the backstroke events and a medal in the medley relays. At the end of both 1999 and 2000, I was named the USA Swimmer of the Year, a title that I am very honored to have held. Then, at the Athens Games in 2004 I was the United States Olympic swimming team captain. I won a gold medal as part of the medley relay team. Four gold medals in two Olympic Games is more than I could have ever dreamed of when I was that 13-year-old kid swimming at the Westside JCC.

What does it take to be an Olympian?
At that level everyone is very talented, but you don’t win Olympic medals with just talent. It takes hours and hours of very hard work. It also takes a team effort that includes the support of family, coaches and teammates. [And] being mentally sharp means that you have a clear focus of your goal, that you have the ability to perform at your very best under situations of high pressure and that you know your competition’s strengths and weaknesses.

What does your Judaism mean to you?
An important value of our religion is to give of yourself to the community, to pass on what you have learned to others. Teaching is a way I try to accomplish this in my own life. Family values are also important to me. It is essential to pass on the core values of our religion to our kids.

What are your impressions of JCC Aquatic Director Bill Kirkner, his staff and the program they run?
I was very impressed with how goal-oriented and organized the program is. The coaching staff is really good, focusing on the fundamentals of good technique. A quality program starts at the top, and so the success of the Aquatic Center begins with Bill’s leadership. Working with Bill has been great.

 

Do You Like To Swim?
Children interested in swimming can check out Lenny Krayzelburg swim academies located in Jewish Community Centers from Los Angeles to New York (lennykswim.com).

In Baltimore, swimmers can participate in classes at the JCC Aquatic Center under the direction of Bill Kirkner. Lifeguard training and lifeguard certification are also available (jcc.org/aquatics/aquatic-center/).

The USA Swimming-affiliated team of the JCC of Greater Baltimore is officially called JCC Swimming. The swim team (jccswimming.com) practices in both the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC and the Weinberg Park Heights JCC. The team won the JCC Association of North America’s Mid-Atlantic Swim League championship in 2007, 2010 and 2012. It also won the Central Maryland Swim League Division IX title in 2011 and 2012 and the Division VIII championship in 2013.

James Williams is an area freelance writer.

Ha’Posek

The dedication of the headstones for Rabbi Abraham Rice and his wife, Rosalie, was a heartfelt tribute that was more than a year in the making.

The dedication of the headstones for Rabbi Abraham Rice and his wife, Rosalie, was a heartfelt tribute that was more than a year in the making.

This past weekend members of the Baltimore Jewish community and congregation Shearith Israel, in addition to the Rosenbergs of Monsey, N.Y., gathered to commemorate and dedicate newly created headstones for Rabbi Abraham Yosef Rice and his wife, Rosalie, who are buried in the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation cemetery on Belair Road.

Rabbi Abraham Rice (1800-1862) first arrived in Baltimore from Germany in 1840 with his wife and sister to be the first rabbi of the Nidche Yisroel, later Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and consequently the first ordained rabbi in the United States. The events, in planning for more than a year, marked cooperation between members of the Orthodox Shearith Israel Congregation, leadership at the Reform Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Steve Venick of Fram Monument and members of the Rosenberg family, who are sixth- and seventh-generation descendants of Rabbi Rice.

For Alexander Brett Weil, this project had been on his mind for more than a year.

“The day of the yahrtzeit, when I went out to the actual kever to daven, for the first time it kind of hit me that the kever area is in very bad shape,” he said, while recounting the events surrounding the 150th yahrtzeit of Rabbi Rice last year. “The stones were illegible, and I had the idea that night at the 150th Yahrtzeit gathering to launch a new project that would be a tikkun matzeiva.”

101813_HaPosek2Rabbi Rice, as the first ordained rabbi in the U.S., faced not only the challenges to inspire and lead a community, but he also quickly became the address for every issue of Jewish law in the country. Rabbi Yonah Landau, an author and leader of trips to various graves of great rabbis in the United States, related that Rabbi Rice’s services were highly sought all over the country.

“There was a shaila [question] in New York. They bought a new shul for the Beis Midrash Ha Gadol (great synagogue) — a big shul. They had to make a chanukas habayis [building dedication], and they called to Rabbi Rice. He came from Baltimore to make the chanukas habayis,” said Rabbi Landau with a thick Yiddish accent. “For all shailos that came up in New York and the United States, they used to call up to Rabbi Rice. He was the posek ha dor (major authority of Jewish law) in the states.”

However, Rabbi Rice’s main focus was in Baltimore. Rabbi Andy Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation sees the legacy of Rabbi Rice as a part of the history of the congregation, which he tries to instill in the members by taking a religious school class each year to the cemetery to visit the grave of Rabbi Rice and his wife. He said that this is in order to have his congregants continue “respecting Rabbi Rice and feeling the connection to the deep roots of the congregation.”

Displayed in BHC are a prominent photo of Rabbi Rice as well as a Megillat Esther, believed to have been owned by the rabbi.

After a frustrating experience as the leader of BHC, where his efforts to bring more traditional Orthodox Jewish practices were met with resistance by its Reform movement members, he established his own congregation, which eventually became Shearith Israel. He also presided over the establishment of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, a small Jewish school and the first ritual immersion bath in the city.

He never compromised his beliefs, and it was this unwillingness to compromise that remains as his legacy in Baltimore’s Orthodox community today.

“I think the fact that Rabbi Rice came to America and had all of the challenges that he had, the fact that he was able not to compromise and to hold the line against tremendous forces of challenge, that was really the source of what Baltimore has become today,” said Eli Schlossberg, who sponsored the Saturday evening melava Malka.

Schlossberg is of German (Ashkenazi) decent and said he feels a special affinity for the heritage that Rabbi Rice established in the Baltimore.

“He planted a seed. His legacy is that he planted the seed not only for Baltimore, but for all of Klal Yisroel because he was the only rav in America.”

In addition to the rededication of the headstones, a generous donation of original artifacts was made by Harry Green of Los Angeles to Shearith Israel, which includes letters, pictures and an original line drawing. Green acquired the estate of Rabbi Rice from his biographer, Rabbi Harold Sharfman, also of Los Angeles. Green’s hope was to find the right place for the artifacts.

“I was entrusted with a large estate of Judaica, and my primary concern was to identify what was in it and find the places where they belong,” he said. “It’s sort of like completing a puzzle, putting things back where they belong.”

The donation will become part of an exhibit that Weil hopes to begin putting together soon.

“Rabbi Rice was the one who transmitted, transported and transplanted the complete truth of Torah here in Baltimore,” Weil said. “Baltimore is the capital of our mesora and our tradition in America, and I felt it fitting to remember him and publicize his great works.”

Gabriel Lewin is an area freelance writer.

‘Highs in the Low Fifties’

101813_highs-low-fifties

Marion Winik’s new book talks to middle-aged women interested in romance. (Melissa Gerr)

“I’ve always been the kind of person who sees the humor in something, and what these events — we won’t call them relationships —seemed to have in common, they had a strong ludicrous element,” said Marion Winik of her latest book, “Highs in the Low Fifties, how I stumbled through the joys of single living” (skirt! press), which is about dating as a middle-aged woman.

Winik’s book begins when she arrives in Baltimore in 2008 after her second marriage ends. Now she’s a resident of the Evergreen neighborhood in Roland Park, a community she loves.  She lives with her daughter, Jane, and Beau the dachshund (both featured prominently in the book) and teaches writing at the University of Baltimore.

Winik had a more difficult time publishing this book than others.  She was surprised when one publisher, after reading the first few chapters, said she would have nothing to do with it.

“I felt like I was writing a porno book or something,” said Winik. “There is this reaction that, I think, has to do with middle-aged women not generally viewed as people who are interested in sex and romance; people seem to find the subject slightly distasteful.  There’s almost no sex in it, sorry to say, but the idea for a middle-aged woman to be dating seemed to be very outrageous to people.”

Winik’s book is a memoir, but reading it feels more like sitting down with her over coffee and listening to a good friend’s hilarious and sometimes wince-inducing anecdotes about dating.

“Even though my writing is very therapeutic for me, I’m writing for other people — that’s foremost in my mind,” said Winik. “I have to entertain or offer them some reason why they would possibly care.”

And you likely will care and even laugh out loud. “Highs in the Low Fifties” recounts her two marriages (the first was to a gay man who died of AIDS, and the second was a “debate-club-on-steroids” marriage that ended in divorce) and the litany of men Winik meets via online dating and through friends. There are even those who just happen to be working on her house.

It’s ultimately a book filled with love and laughs and many instances where you might find yourself thinking, “You did what?”

But Winik’s book isn’t a how-to book of dating secrets, and it doesn’t offer the tidy endings that you might find in fiction. Instead, it’s real and heartfelt and brave — much like Winik.

“We crave to know how other people are on the inside because part of what makes us all lonely is the sense that we don’t know if other people are like us and if they feel the same things, and fiction tells you that,” said Winik. “But memoir tells you that in a way that’s extremely intimate. What memoir has is an actual real communication between real people. Even though these readers might not meet me, we are having a true interaction. When you read a [fiction] novel you’re interacting with the fictional person, not the author.”

There are two opportunities to experience that real (and likely hilarious) communication with Winik. She reads at the 510 Series at Minas Gallery in Hampden on Oct. 19 at 5 p.m. and at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.  Her books will be available for purchase and signing at each event. Learn more at marionwinik.com.

Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor — mgerr@jewishtimes.com

Paying Tribute

101813_Paying-Tribute2A recent Sunday morning at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion in Park Heights found some of Baltimore’s bravest Jews and their spouses enjoying a hearty breakfast of bagels and lox with rugelach for dessert. But they weren’t there only for the food. The group of 30 people, many of whom were World War II veterans, had come to hear a presentation by one of their own — 88-year-old Aaron Seiden, a recipient of two purple hearts.

“Six months ago,” said Seiden, smiling, “my wife and I were filling out our bucket list. I said to her [Bernice], ‘Before you kick the bucket, I think you should see Paris. This is a good time to go.’ We decided to go on a Viking River Cruise to Paris and Normandy.”

Seiden’s presentation to members of the Paul D. Savanuck/Shaarei Zion Memorial Post No. 888 of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America described some of the trip’s highlights, especially the opportunities the trip afforded him to revisit his memories of fighting at Omaha Beach in Normandy during World War II.

“When I landed there it was June 19th [1944], and I was five days short of my 19th birthday,” he said. “I was with the 83rd Infantry Division, 101st Airborne. When I saw Omaha Beach again, I didn’t even recognize it.”

Seiden told the audience about his experiences while on duty in Normandy. He was wounded there and sent to England for medical care.

“It was the first time I ever flew in an airplane,” he said.

After being hospitalized for approx-imately six weeks, Seiden was sent back to join his unit. By that time, the unit had moved to Germany.

“We took Brest [Germany] and then went to Luxemburg for some rest and relaxation for a week,” he said.

Aaron Seiden speaks at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion synagogue about his trip to Normandy. (Photos by David Stuck)

Aaron Seiden speaks at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion synagogue about his trip to Normandy.
(Photos by David Stuck)

Then, Seiden’s unit traveled into the Black Forest in southwestern Germany. It was about a week before Christmas, 1944, when he was wounded again. This time, a severe chest wound sent him back to the U.S. — for good.

Seiden’s tour also took him to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach. There, he hoped to find the graves of fellow Jewish servicemen from the 83rd Division. Seidman succeeded in finding 14 Jewish headstones. The last one he found was that of Lawrence Slutzner, a member of his own division.

“I said kaddish and then asked people on the tour if they had any paper,” he said. Seidman thought that by recording the names, ranks and death dates of these veterans, he might be able to provide information to their families in the U.S. Many of these families, said Seidman, had no way of knowing where their relatives were buried.

“When I came back to the states, I asked our rabbi if we could honor them [the soldiers] by reading their names on Memorial Day,” he said. Seidmen’s rabbi agreed. “We will probably do it again next year. I [also] wanted to share them [the names] with you. I had the satisfaction of doing a mitzvah.”

The following are the Jewish veterans whose graves Seiden found in the cemetery near Omaha Beach:

• Cpl. Ed Sachs, Engineer Battalion, died 8/13/45

• T/4 (Technician Fourth Grade) Paul Mayer, 16th Medical Company, 12/30/44

• Staff Sgt. Szymon Friedman, 303rd Bomb Group 6/12/44

• 2nd Lt. Sid Scheiman, 92nd Bomb Group, 2/4/44

• Pvt. Jack Barshak, 979th Signal Corps,11/24/44

• Pvt. Lawrence Slutzner, 83rd Division, 329th Infantry, 7/28/44

• Pfc. Felix Taylor, 119th Infantry, 30th Division, 7/14/44

• Pvt. Efraim M. Loew, 121st Infantry, 8th Division, 7/8/44

• 1st Lt. George Roth, 100th Bomb Group, 6/24/44

• Pvt. Al Kasowsky, 19th Infantry, 9th Division, 7/18/44

• Pvt. Jack Sonnenreich, 60th Infantry, 4th Division, 7/17/44

• 1st Lt. Jeans Spector, 119th Infantry, 30th Division, 8/24/44

• Technical Sgt. Joseph Mindelsohn, 44th Bomb Group, 1/14/44

• Technical Sgt. Elmer Posner, 322nd Bomb Group, 7/8/44

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter — sellin@jewishtimes.com

The Eyes Have It: Five Keys for Effective Eye Contact

101813_lasson_elliotMost would agree that having quality eye contact is an advantage in life. It positively affects interpersonal relationships as well as workplace interactions. Here are five specific areas in which eye contact should be executed.

> Match with the verbal: In your initial approach to a new party or even someone with whom you already have established a relationship, eye contact should support what you are saying at the time. During an initial introduction to another person, you should make eye contact when stating your name. You should also be looking at the person when he/she states his/her name. Often, the close of a given interactive episode will conclude with a “thank you.” That is an opportunity to take leave of the person with a sincere expression of gratitude. When making a presentation to a group, part of effective public speaking is not reading directly off of one’s paper but to look up and engage the audience.

> Match with the nonverbal: Similarly, a key contribution to any interpersonal communication is the nonverbal. Two gestures that are most commonplace are the handshake and the smile. Shaking someone’s hand while looking over his shoulder will not engage the person. Furthermore, a smile combined with eye contact expresses that you want to be there. It shows interest and enthusiasm in what is being discussed. While this sounds basic, many job interviewees fail as a result of not attending to this. Consequently, the desire to work or be there is not conveyed.

> Don’t wander off: While making a positive first impression is part of the game, eye contact should not end with the handshake or initial introduction. While at times challenging, make a concerted effort to maintain eye contact throughout the conversation, be it formal or informal. Wandering off gives the impression that you are distracted, either from the discussion at hand or more generally.

> Don’t stare: Too much of a good thing is often counterproductive. Maintaining eye contact throughout an interaction is a reasonable goal. But if you don’t use selective diversion, you will come across as creepy and that will be a turnoff.

> Don’t leave anyone out: In many of our interactions, we are not communicating one-on-one but one-to-many. Focusing one’s eye contact and attention on a single person to the exclusion of the others will indicate that you are ignoring them and give the impression that you are not validating their presence. This can happen when interviewing with a panel or when you are making a presentation to a group. Make an effort to scan the room. We tend to focus on those who are either familiar to us or who we believe are the most influential people in the room. Sometimes, our guess of who is most influential will be correct; sometimes, we will guess incorrectly. But, even if you are correct, the others in the room, who might very well be your co-workers, will play some role in the hiring process. Or they might end up being your co-workers and, as such, are formulating their first impressions of you.

It goes without saying that eye contact that is devoid of substance will not be totally effective. As most things go, it is a package deal.

Spreading The Truth

Dr. Faheem Younus is quick to point out that the Quran does not encourage many of the things non-Muslim societies associate with Islam.

Dr. Faheem Younus is quick to point out that the Quran does not encourage many of the things non-Muslim societies associate with Islam.

Islam is a religion founded on tolerance, but extremism in some parts of the world and the tendency to turn complex issues into sound bites has created a lot of myths and misconceptions about the world’s second largest religion, said medical and religious professor Dr. Faheem Younus last Sunday afternoon. He was speaking to about 30 people, who had gathered at the Owings Mills branch of the Baltimore County Public Library to discuss Islam at a talk hosted by the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah.

The talk was led by Younus, a clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and former national youth president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. He has lectured on “Islam: Fact and Fiction” and “Islam in the News” at campuses across the country.

“1.6 billion Muslims are not a monolith,” said Younus. “Everybody should have a right to define themselves.”

This concept of being able to define oneself has been a major force in Younus’ life. When he was 24 years old, he left his native Pakistan for the United States because of the religious persecution his Ahmadiyya Muslim sect was experiencing. After Sept. 11, 2001, he found himself faced with a lot of the same generalizing and suspicion he had fled from in Pakistan.

The Ahmadiyya sect is founded on the belief that the Messiah came in the form of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who lived from 1835 to 1908. Ahmadiyya Muslims believe that Ahmad was sent by God to end religious war, and revive morality, peace and justice. The sect denounces terrorism and instead calls for intellectual “jihad of the pen” in order to defend their religion. They also advocate the separation of religion and government.

While there are many different sects and patterns of belief in Islam, Younus said, the Quran itself does not promote many of the things that mainstream society has come to associate with Islam.

“Things are taken out of context,” said Younus, in response to a question about the Quran’s instruction to kill nonbelievers.

When he hears of violent acts committed by Muslims, Younus told the group, he feels a sense of betrayal. Just as Jews would object to being lumped together with disgraced and convicted financier Bernard Madoff or Christians would resent being referred to as one with people who bomb abortion clinics, he and the members of his sect staunchly reject any association with extremist violence.

“Extremism is a virus,” Younus said, comparing it to a tumor that, left untreated, grows. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, he said, believes it is the vaccine for that virus.

When an audience member asked Younus what he believes the right path for Islam to follow is in order to avoid allowing the sickness to spread, he replied “doing this.”

So much propaganda aimed at attacking the other side exists in both Muslim countries and Western countries, Younus said, that the best way to combat it is to spread truth and understanding across religious divides.

In 15 years of hosting BJCC meetings, co-presidents Bob Jacobson and Fred Pincus said Sunday’s discussion was the first time they had hosted a talk that focused solely on Islam.

“There is so much misinformation out there about Islam,” said Pincus, adding that he was pleased with how receptive those who attended the lecture were to Younus’ responses to their questions. “It’s the kind of dialogue that should happen.”

Attendee Charlotte Gelter-Warfield said she doesn’t come to many of the meetings hosted by the BJCC, but she made it a point to come to this one.

“The more information you have, the better it is,” she said of inter-religious understanding. “If you just keep talking, you’ll find more common ground.”

“It’s a question of seeking to understand,” noted Silvia Golombek, who is on the BJCC’s planning committee. “There will be areas we agree on and areas we disagree on, but we have to be open to listening to each other.”

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter — hnorris@jewishtimes.com