JCRC honors Muslim, interfaith leader, announces founding of Newmark Institute

Former State Rep. and current candidate for State Senate Sam Page greets Dr. Ghazala Hayat at the Jewish Community Relations Council Annual Meeting after Hayat received the JCRC’s Norman A. Stack Community Relations Award. Hayat has been an active leader in the Muslim and interfaith communities, including serving as past president of Interfaith Partnership.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

A virtual “Who’s Who” of community and religious leaders from Jewish as well as non-Jewish agencies honored a Muslim community leader and announced the new Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations during the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis (JCRC) 72nd annual meeting last week. A record 235 people attended the event at the Crowne Plaza in Clayton.

Institute introduced

At the meeting, the JCRC announced the establishment of the Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations, which will bring together leaders from all faiths to help champion diversity and ensure people of all backgrounds live together in peace. The Institute will be lead by Rabbi Howard Kaplansky of United Hebrew Congregation.

In discussing this new initiative, Michael Newmark, who is a past president of the JCRC, noted that the institute’s advisory board has broad representation from the community – including religious, racial, ethnic, business, academic, and non-profit leaders – who “will shape the institute and chart the directions.” 

Newmark took note of extreme elements of the left and right who “threaten our harmonious society, and can cause all of our work for many years to be for naught.  We must all continue to make America work. Because we are a diverse and pluralistic society, because that diversity is increasing, because we are a minority in this pluralistic society – for all of these reasons and more, it is time for us to redouble our efforts to reach out to others and help build a harmonious community.”

Muslim, interfaith leader honored

Dr. Ghazala Hayat, a medical doctor on the faculty of St. Louis University Health Sciences Center since 1986, received the Norman A. Stack Community Relations Award. The award is named after a late, beloved JCRC executive director.

A native of Pakistan, Hayat has been active in the interfaith area of the community, having served as president of the Interfaith Parnership/Faith Beyond Walls and as chairwoman of the Greater Islamic Foundation and chair of its public relations committee.

“Dr. Ghalaza Hayat has been a leader in the establishment of lines of communication and friendship between the many communities of St. Louis,” said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of JCRC. “Working with the JCRC, she was a co-founder in 2006 of the Sidney and Anna Frager Jewish/Muslim Teen Dialogue Group.”

Hayat offered greetings of “Shalom and Salaam,” the Jewish and Islamic words of hello and peace. She expressed appreciation to her family and friends, and “to the Interfaith Partnership from whom I learned to be accepting of other people.  I was humbled when Batya called me to inform me that I would receive this award.  Whether we face good times or hard times, we must continue to work together.”

Emerging leader award; scholarship awarded

The JCRC also presented the Michael N. and Barbara Newmark Emerging Leader Award to Phyllis Woollen Markus. She is a JCRC vice president and chair of the Bohm Family Social Justice Initiative and the Community Against Poverty Coalition (CAP), which was described as a “broad-based coalition of interfaith and civic partners who have come together to reduce the ill effects of poverty.”

The award, now in its 10th year, was established “to encourage emerging leaders to intensify their community relations experiences on both the local and national level.”

In accepting her award, Markus reviewed the accomplishments of the CAP program since its inception and said the next focus for CAP will be early childhood care – specifically birth to age three. “Research has shown that quality early child care and education is a highly cost effective way to fight poverty,” she said. ” There is clear evidence that spending on these programs at the beginning of a child’s life, when most brain and skill development occurs, will save greatly in societal costs, preventing later remediation and incarceration and lost potential contributions by that individual in adulthood.”

The JCRC also presented the Milton I. and Merle K. Goldstein Scholarship to Melissa Muminovic, a graduating senior from Soldan High School, who came to the United States from Sarajevo 11 years ago. 

The scholarship was established in memory of the couple. Milton Goldstein was a past president of the JCRC, and both he and his wife were graduates of Soldan.  Joel Goldstein, one of the Goldsteins’ children and a past president of the JCRC, presented this first scholarship to Muminovic, who will be the first member of her family to attend college when she starts at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She took six advanced placement courses while holding a part-time job at a Walgreens pharmacy.  She hopes to become a pharmacist.

Agency’s history and future

Created in 1938 in the aftermath of Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, the JCRC of St. Louis, like similar agencies around the nation, brought together 17 Jewish organizations and local chapters of national organizations to assure that the Jewish community would have a forum in which to develop consensus positions on issues of concern to the Jewish community. Gerry Greiman, president of the JCRC and Abramson-Goldstein, spoke about the organization’s interfaith and intergroup work, which raises awareness about the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran and the vital importance of maintaining dialogue and close and meaningful contacts with the diverse elements of the total community.

“The JCRC should be commended on its successful collaboration with numerous organizations in the Greater St. Louis community, such as the Urban League, the National Conference for Community and Justice and the Interfaith Partnership,” said Jewish Federation President Sanford Neuman. “The diversity in this room speaks volumes about your success.”

Greiman stressed the role of the JCRC in enlisting the understanding and support of diverse organizations regarding issues of concern to the Jewish community.  “We appreciate the understanding shown over our concern that Iran may obtain nuclear weapons and the threat that would pose to Israel.,” he said. “When Hamas fired 4,000 rockets into Israel from Gaza and responded to those attacks, it was Israel that was condemned.  We recognize other concerns, such as in the aftermath of the shooting at Fort Hood, inappropriate comments were made that blamed the religion of Islam for this and similar incidents.  We at the JCRC recognize that community relations is a two-way street, and we must always remind ourselves of this fact.”