October 17, 2018Thedreidel
The news has been saturated with the horrific story of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who stepped into a Saudi Arabia consulate to obtain a wedding permit, and never left. The media is raising the flag of freedom of the press, as if Khashoggi’s alleged murder at the hands of his captors/interrogators is on the same level as other brave journalists who have paid the ultimate price for their pursuit of the truth. Maybe it was… or maybe it was a hit, brought down Mafia style by the object of Khashoggi’s pen – the Saudi royal family, and in particular Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Regardless, it has raised the ire of all of us who depend on a free press – and in particular, in my case, it makes me remember Daniel Pearl. A young Jewish man, father, son and journalist whose fearless pursuit of the truth, ended tragically.
Daniel Pearl was a journalist for the Wall Street Journal who held dual United States and Israeli citizenship. That in and of itself can get you into trouble, and Daniel wore that duality like a badge of honor. Daniel’s end came about because of an investigation that looked into the relationship between Richard Reid, best known as the ‘shoe-bomber’, and the terrorist group called Al-Quaeda. Khashoggi might not have known what was in store for him when he entered the Saudi embassy in order to seek a wedding permit. Daniel however did know the potential for danger when he entered Pakistan, hot on the heels of his story. Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia over a year ago because he feared for his personal safety, preferring the relative safety of America to write his columns. Daniel fearlessly entered the lion’s den knowing full well what the cost of our right to information entailed.
Daniel was captured and kidnapped. The anguish that resulted came from not only the family, but the community.
“The brutality of Daniel’s murder brought back echoes of the Shoah for many Jewish people”, commented Rabbi David Baron, founding rabbi and head of a viral congregation at Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts. “It was in a sense a rallying cry to stand up and be counted in the battle against Islamic extremism and it also reminded many Jewish people that their heritage is what really matters”.
As Jews, our existence is marked by tragedy that in retrospect serves as the impetus for social change. We seem to be well-versed in surviving bad times and events. Although many would like to believe that we walked obligingly into the ovens, nothing is further from the truth. We fought against the Nazi war machine on several fronts, as we do to this day. Our response to adversity historically has been to spit in its face, and instead of cower, to command.
Nobody experienced the loss more than Daniel’s parents, Dr. Judea and Ruth Pearl. There is no greater fear for a parent then to contemplate their children not outliving them. Their reaction to Daniel’s execution and the blunt trauma of the events surrounding his death had to be immediate and devastating. However, there must have also been extreme pride in Daniel’s last words, as he looked into the camera that would record his final moments:
“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish,” Daniel said, adding: “Back in the town of Bnei Brak, there is a street named after my great-grandfather Chaim Pearl, who is one of the founders of the town.”
Those words from this Jewish young man would carry more weight than a thousand epitaphs on a thousand graves of a thousand militants who subvert religious dogma into campaigns of hate and intolerance. And, what is very important to understand is that those words, that underscore that man, that define who we are, cut through the misery that his loss carved out of humanity and instead engraved remembrance, tolerance and art.
Sharon Farber, an Israeli born, celebrated film and concert music composer, suffered vicariously as did most Jews who were privy to the news of Daniel Pearl’s death. How does an artist channel the misery and frustration that comes from an event that threatens the fabric of humanity?
“As Hans Christian Andersen said, “Where words fail, music speaks”. Music was my way to express the emotions I felt when Judea called me on that horrible day. The poem, “The Third Mother” by Nathan Alterman, was close to my heart since childhood, and when Daniel was kidnapped, it was a natural choice for me to set it to music in his honor.”, said Farber. As a personal friend of the Pearl’s, Farber’s response was to create something that spoke directly to the heart of Ruth Pearl, Daniel’s mother. Farber composed “The Third Mother / Mother’s Lament”, which was premiered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. When the last notes of the piece faded away, Farber remembers… “I will never forget the silence that followed the last note of the piece. It was a deep, collective sorrow that emanated through the hall of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, touching each and every person in a profound way. This is why I believe that music has a divine power to make a difference and unite.”
And we did unite.
All over the planet Jews and non-Jews united in a call for justice, tolerance and remembrance. Daniel’s parents founded The Daniel Pearl Foundation to promote mutual respect and understanding among diverse cultures through journalism, music and dialogue. Muslims united with Jews in the spirit of collaboration and diversity. The foundation awards scholarships, the Daniel Pearl Youth Initiatives mentors high school and secondary school writers, and music is delivered on a global scale through the Daniel Pearl Music Days.
In the ashes of tragedy, so much has blossomed. As Daniel Pearl’s executioner lay helpless on a waterboard plank, his lungs filling with liquid, did he ever think that in what he took away, so much would be given back? We no longer have Daniel, but what we do have is his inspiration. It lives and breathes. Is there anything more memorable than a child who will follow in the footsteps of Daniel’s journalistic integrity, having his education bought and paid for by donors to a foundation that carries Daniel’s name?
Maybe Rabbi Baron summed it up best when he recalled the words of Daniel’s father as he spoke from the bima at a recent Yom Kippur service…
“…my wish is that the sons of Danny’s murderers become more like my sons than their fathers.”
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