By Aneesh Karuppur (III)
On November 16, students from the Upper School and Middle School attended the John Hanly
Lecture in Hauser Auditorium. The speakers this year were Daniel Pincus ’96 and his friend, Mohammed Al Samawi, a young man from Yemen he got to know through his interfaith work.
The John Hanly Lecture Series on Ethics and Morality has been holding annual lectures since 1999, when former Headmaster John Hanly retired. In recognition of his love of teaching and interest in ethical questions, the John Hanly Fund allows Pingry to bring in speakers to talk about issues regarding ethics and morality every year. The theme of this year’s assembly was the question of how far one would go to take up someone else’s problem as his or her own.
Pincus, a consultant for The Quantic Group, a pharmaceutical consultancy company, first met Al Samawi through his membership in the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council (MJAC) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC). The MJAC brings together Muslims and Jews from all walks of life to collectively addresses issues shared by the Muslim and Jewish communities. The AJC, co-convener of the MJAC, is an advocacy group for Jews and the Jewish faith.
To begin their joint talk, Pincus spoke about his experience at Pingry and directly addressed his former teachers from the stage. He became interested in inter-faith work largely because of friends he made as a jazz musician at the University of Pennsylvania. Several years after meeting Al Samawi at a conference in Germany, Pincus heard from him again when Al Samawi needed help escaping Al-Qaeda during the civil war in Yemen. Though he didn’t know Al Samawi well, Pincus knew he had to do all he could to save a life. He used his contacts and cell phone to coordinate help over a span of 13 days in 2015.
In relating his story, Al Samawi spoke about his upbringing in a Muslim household in Sanaa, Yemen, where a disability forced him to stay home and learn English rather than socialize with his peers. This knowledge of English allowed him to connect with others outside of Yemen on Facebook, which led him to eventually attend the Muslim Jewish Conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia in 2013, a conference organized by Pincus.
A fellow of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy for the Middle Eastern and North African region, Al Samawi plans to release his memoir, The Fox Hunt: Escape From Yemen, in April 2018. His book is also currently being made into a movie by Marc Platt, producer of La La Land.
The student body was very moved by the lecture. At the end of the hour-long assembly, the speakers were given two standing ovations. Alex Strasser (V) said afterwards, “I thought that the Hanly Lecture was able to demonstrate to all of us the way that meeting someone and going through some incredibly difficult experiences can come with moral conflicts and enlightened us on how they…were overcome. It also gave me hope that I might be able to someday help someone in the same outstanding way that we heard.”