‘Constant talking in Hasmo days prepared me to work with Islamist extremists’

‘Bizarrely, Hasmo taught me how to deal with extremists!’

A forensic psychologist trained to deal with extremist offenders revealed that she picked up the subtle art of conversation she needed for her career while a student at Hasmonean Girls School.

She was among six guest speakers who do not tend to claim a place on the podium but were invited to share their stories at the JW3’s ‘People Who Usually Don’t Lecture’ event on Monday.

Organiser Stephen Shashoua said: “I thought tonight went magnificently, a little slice of our community in all its array and complexities. I think what the audience got was a slice of who we are behind labels, our dreams and hopes and different world views.”

Forensic psychologist Lindy, 46, from Hendon, who could only be identified by her first name, serves on the Parole Board, a body that determines whether prisoners can be safely released into the community.

While previously working in the prison service, part of her job involved persuading extremist offenders to engage with a small team of psychologists. She was sometimes privy to fraught conversations – but fortunately, she picked up the gift of repartee from her alma mater.

“These were largely Muslim extremists, who were not motivated to speak to a white, British female, yet they all did,” she told the audience.

“I joke that this is where my Hasmonean training came in; five years of doing little else other than socialising, means that you can put me in a room with anyone, and I will find a way of engaging them in conversation,” she quipped.

L-R: Harry Lyons, Richard Pollins, Richard Pollins, Adam Overlander-Kaye, Lindy, Niran Bassoon-Timan, (©Richard Eaton)

Also speaking at the event was father-of-two Richard Pollins, 41, from North Finchley, who was born without legs. He detailed the perils of negotiating escalators or climbing up stairs on artificial legs and the challenges of balancing fatherhood with his disability.

With the birth of his first child, Joseph, six years ago, the ITV News journalist was faced with a fresh set of challenges, he said, including learning how to lift a toddler in and out of a cot or crossing a road.

“Fast forward to now and I’ve got two children,” he said. “Maggie is our youngest. She’s now three, and sometimes we’re out and about, just the two of us, and we come to roads,” he said. “I use a combination of paranoia and sports commentary.”

Most of all, Pollins said he hopes to teach his children that “it’s okay to be different”, that “nobody can do everything” and finally that “when it really matters, you can make it work”.

Fellow guest speaker, the violinist Harry Lyons discussed the personal impact of a horrific car accident that cost him part of his eyesight and the ability to hear for more than 10 years. “Driving my car along Eversholt Street, the sun was shining. I was happy as a tomboy,” he told the event.

“I looked to my right, a car came through the red lights, hit me once, bounced off, hit me twice, bounced off, and hit me the third time and went through me.”

Harry Lyons, 93, from Golders Green (©Richard Eaton)

The 93-year-old from Golders Green was the last musical director to have worked for Moss Empires circuit and has performed around the world, including for members of the royal family.

Later, Lyons recovered his ability to hear after undergoing an operation in Liverpool. “I was three and a half hours on the table. I had to be awake. When he finished, I could hear a pin drop,” he told a rapt audience.

Meanwhile, Jewish-Iraqi speaker Niran Bassoon-Timan, 62, from Edgware, described her life’s journey from Baghdad to Israel in 1973, and later to the UK in 1987.

“By the time I reached the age of 11, it was no longer safe for Jews to live in Iraq, and my parents started looking for a way out,” she said. “On the plane, I  decided to close this chapter in my life called Iraq.”

She became involved in non-political bridge building between Iraqi and Israeli communities, starting a YouTube channel. “I wanted to inform people about the important part of what Jews did to establish modern Iraq. I tell them about the 2,600-year history of Jews in Iraq,” she added.

Israeli guest speaker Shai Grosskopf, 45, from Barnet, detailed his own experience of coming out as gay to his parents and later, on the advice of his father, of adopting two daughters in Yorkshire with his partner of 27 years.

“Here we are, two gay Israeli guys adopting a Yorkshire lass. Unfortunately, my dad passed away a month before she came. But I managed to show him a picture of her and to promise him that we will name her after his mum,” he said, prompting a round of applause from the audience.

Also speaking at the event, Adam Overlander-Kaye, 46, from Finchley, who spent a decade in Jewish education described his relationship with religion and how it has changed.

“What is the purpose of this story? Maybe it’s recognising that you don’t have to fit into a religious box,” he said.

“Even so, boxes come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe to acknowledge that some of us are on a journey, that Jewish life can be confusing but that sometimes confused is a good place to be,” he added.

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