Remembering Daniel Pearl
This Friday, I will be at a minyan for morning prayers. It will be the 19th of Shevat — 18 years since the journalist and musician Daniel Pearl was murdered in Pakistan by Islamic terrorists because he was a Jew. I will remember Danny’s warm, encouraging smile, and I will speak the kaddish in his memory.
Hating Jews is, sadly, an outsized and grotesque part of the human story. But, on that day in 2002, when evil embodied in man stole from us the future of Daniel Pearl, he left us with words that can help us shape and determine our future, yet unrevealed.
After Danny’s murder, his parents, Ruth and Judea Pearl, published a book, I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl. In it, Dr. Pearl recalls Danny’s last words: “Back in the town of Bnei Brak, there is a street named after my great-grandfather, Chayim Pearl, who was one of the founders of the town.”
In 1924, Danny’s great-grandfather knew he had to return to his ancestral home. He left behind the hatred endured in exile, purchased a sandy plot in the land of Israel, and brought his wife and four children to a place where he was free to build a better life for his family, and to help fashion a better future for the world.
Danny’s father, Judea, believes that Danny freely chose to recount the actions of his great-grandfather as a rebuke to those who were about to murder him and steal his life. Danny wanted his murderers to know that — in contrast to their destruction — Jews plant and build and toil to fashion a better world, a better future for all people.
Danny’s message to us is that, even when evil and hate cut us down, we can remember what came before and we can learn and understand from our history and heritage what can be.
Today, Judea Pearl, as an academic, fights to protect Zionist students from hatred and Zionophobia.
Who are Zionists? We are a group, says Dr. Pearl, “bonded together by a distinct miraculous journey in the past and an inspirational vision for the future.”
Israel’s existence — the Zionist idea — writes Dr. Pearl, “is a moral imperative and opposition to it is morally reprehensible.”
As I recite the kaddish in Danny’s memory, I will also remember many, many other people.
Among them, I will remember Kristine Luken — an American Christian who was knifed to death while on a nature hike in a Jerusalem forest by Arabs in December 2010. She was on her first ever visit to Israel, and had arrived but 24 hours before. “We wanted to kill Jews,” her killers brag. Kristine was not Jewish. It didn’t matter. That she identified with the Jewish people and loved Zion was sufficient for her murderers.
Many years ago, when I visited Yad Vashem for the first time, I noticed a plaque near the exit with a quote from the Baal Shem Tov: “Remembrance is the secret of redemption.”
To be redeemed is to be set free. And since it is only in freedom that we can fashion a better future for our world, we must remember — our heritage, our history, our story.
So Danny and Kristine, continue to rest in peace. We will remember you and what you held most dear. In our memories of you, may we be blessed to never desist from our work as Jews and Zionists.
Each day, as we recite the Aleynu prayer, we are reminded what that work is: “To perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty.”