Saturday, September 20, 2008

Heartfelt Reflections on Daniel Pearl's Legacy & Jewish Identity: Judea Pearl in Seattle at StandWithUs Community Luncheon

Judea Pearl graced Seattle with his presence this past Thursday, speaking at a SWU
Community Luncheon on the topic of co-existence and the prospects for peace in the Middle East and beyond. A projection of his slain son Daniel beamed luminously overhead, with a larger than life radiant smile and twinkle in his vibrant eyes.

Judea detailed how the unspeakable horror of Daniel's death ultimately energized him to turn the brutal personal tragedy into an opportunity for healing, deeper understanding and, on a more global level, to help galvanize the West in its battle against the dark forces of fanaticism, intolerance and hatred. He spoke of the paramount importance of identity (an appropriate follow-up to this blog's last posting; 'Sharansky: Why Identity Matters'). Daniel's last words to his murderers in that dark basement in Karachi were: "My father is Jewish; my mother is Jewish; I am Jewish." For Judea, the decoding of Daniel's proud but matter-of-fact emphasis on identity in his last words was the key to a deeper understanding of that identity.

Daniel, like his father, was a secular Jew. However, Judaism profoundly informed his worldview and his sense of self. For Daniel, Judaism was the cultural language of his larger, extended family; a source of strength, understanding and connection to a greater historical identity. In "I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl," Judea writes

To Danny, "I am Jewish" meant "I must understand." Or in other words: "I am possessed with a historically-baked obsession to understand and repair things, because my wandering ancestors, hardened by centuries of persecution and discrimination, have taught me to mistrust all dogmas and ideologies and to question authority and the status quo and conventional wisdom. So, as a Jew, I have inherited no other mental tranquilizer except that chronic urge to question and to understand.

"I understand suffering, because the suffering of my ancestors is etched on my consciousness.
"I understand justice, because I was distilled by injustice.
"I understand Muslims' suffering as well, for I have seen your people in Kosovo, I have worked with your carpet weavers in Iran, and I have sung with your pearl divers in Qatar.
"'I am Jewish' means I am reminding you of the challenge of understanding. So let's come to our senses."

Endeavoring to better understand the quiet and dignified heroism of his son Daniel, Judea was impelled to explore his own roots, leading inevitably to a deeper appreciation of how Judaism shaped him. For Judea, being Jewish is a happy marriage of choice and history. "The first lays claim to universalism, the second to tribalism." It is through a fortified tribal identity, with the etchings of several thousand years of memory, collective history and generationally transmitted narratives that Judaism indelibly marks our consciousness. It is this bedrock foundation of tribal identity that then allows us to go out into the world and contribute to pluralism, diversity, and the universal values of our larger civilization. And it is precisely these values and virtues that are under assault by the forces of evil that murdered Daniel but could not kill his vision of creating a better world filled with tolerance, hope, and respect for all peoples.

Judea Pearl spoke of Jewishness being first a reflection of peoplehood and nationhood, Am Yisrael, and secondarily of Judaism as a religion. He quoted his friend Yossi Klein Halevi, who said that "We were a people before we received the Torah". That we are a people with a religious identity, which makes us different from Christianity and Islam and which is why you can be an atheist and still be a Jew in relatively good standing if you identify with your people's narrative and contribute to its well being. Judea noted that for us as a people, race, religion, language, imagery and country are inextricably interconnected, and our history is deeply intwined with that small parcel of land described in the Old Testament. He noted that Judaism, as well as Zionism was born on Mt. Sinai, as well as on the slopes of Masada and the banks of the Jordan River.

When it came to sharing that small parcel of land, Judea did not mince words. He pronounced that the modern dilemma between Israelis and Palestinians was a "conflict of two equally legitimate, indigenous peoples, both limping along with their respective defects." On the Israeli, Jewish side, we limp because of our long absence from the land in significant numbers and holding power. The Palestinians limp because they have only crafted a national narrative since the advent of modern Zionism. They have no national holidays; they don't give their children names derived from the mountains, valleys, rivers and history-laden sites. He cautioned too that as long as Palestinian educational institutions don't acknowledge the permanency of the Jewish State, the only conclusion our side can make is that they're not yet serious about reaching an authentic accommodation. That as long they are not creating permanent housing arrangements for their refugees, it can only signify that "they don't mean business."

Judea implored us to take up the call for a return to common sense, dignity, decency and sanity; the clarion call of his beloved son Daniel. He asked us to remember that we are Daniel Pearl's kin and to spread his message of respect for openness, curiosity, diversity and pluralism, and at the same time to take pride in our own unique history and identity. To relish our identities as Jewish-Americans and remember that America remains the "largest exporter of hope, pluralism, and basic human freedoms."

In the battle against hatred, intolerance, and radicalism, Judea Pearl beseeched us to

Empower the troops of peace here at home, and I consider your children and grandchildren to be the elite forces of these troops.

I consider these youngsters semiclones of Danny--talented, curious, principled, and friendly--and I tell myself: Look at the kind of hatred they will be facing when they grow up. They deserve encouragement. They deserve to be told, "You are OK. You are not the bloodthirst baby-killing money-hungry imperialists that Danny's killers and their intellectual sympathizers on college campuses try to portray you as. No. You are Daniel Pearl's kin.

"Like him you will be traveling the world with a pen and a fiddle trying to make sense of what you see; like him you will make friends with thousands of strangers, Jews and non-Jews, and enrich their lives with humor, music, and new insights; and like him you will offer your humble contribution to tikkun olam by insisting, with all the stubbornness of your ancestors, 'I am Jewish! Come to your senses!'

"So go ahead and repair the world. You can do it!"

Visit "The Daniel Pearl Foundation" at check out the upcoming annual "World Music Days" festivals around the world. And call your musician friends, rabbis, cantors, and community leaders and make sure they are aware of the inspirational benefits that your synagogue/congregation/school/center, etc. can derive from participating in the upcoming Daniel Pearl World Music Days, October 1-31, 2008.

Below, a podcast of Judea Pearl's Sept 18th appearance on the Dave Ross radio show

Judea Pearl on the Dave Ross KIRO 710 Radio Show; Sept 18th

10:00 am-11:00 am Download mp3

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