[The Kidnapping and Murder of Wall Street Reporter Daniel Pearl]
by Michael Freund
It is an age-old question, one that Jews have sadly been forced to confront all too often throughout the generations:  When the sharpened blade of the oppressor is raised against you, inquiring about your identity, how should you respond?  To admit to being Jewish in such a situation might seem risking torture or death, but to deny one's heritage would be a betrayal of one's ancestors
and faith.  What then is a Jew to do in such circumstances? 

It might seem like an archaic subject, one that has little or no connection to current events.  After all, the blade has largely been returned to its sheath, and in most western countries, Jews are now able to practice their religion freely and without constraints.

Sure, history is full of examples in which Jews were compelled to make unpleasant choices, such as the Marranos of medieval Spain, who outwardly lived as Christians while secretly practicing Judaism, or Jews under communist dictatorship who found it safer to hide their national origins.  During the Crusades, untold numbers of Jews historically accepted martyrdom rather than renounce their faith and accept the cross.  By contrast, many German Jews in the nineteenth century embraced baptism to further their careers and social mobility.

But all that is ancient history, you might argue.  Jews are no longer confronted with such dilemmas.  Or are they? 

On January 23, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by a gang of Islamic fundamentalist thugs in Pakistan while researching a story for his newspaper.  Last week, Pearl's tragic death was finally confirmed when a video tape sent to Pakistani authorities showed his captors slashing his throat in front of the cameras.

Before he died, Pearl reportedly looked at the screen and said, "I am a Jew, and my father is Jewish," after which those holding him carried out their shocking assault. 

We may never know exactly why Pearl was abducted and murdered.  Was it because he was an American?  A reporter?  A Jew?  Or perhaps because he was working on a story that some people in Pakistan did not wish to see published.  But what we do know with certainty is that even under the glare of his fanatical captors, with his life hanging in the balance, Pearl did not deny who he was.  With courage and audacity, he looked the camera in the eye and said, "I am a Jew."

After Pearl's death was confirmed, his wife, Marianne, told reporters, "I promise you that the terrorists did not defeat my husband no matter what they did to him, nor did they succeed in seizing his dignity or value as a human being."

To that, I would add, they did not succeed in destroying his Jewish self-esteem either.

Could Pearl have lied about his origin to save himself?  Perhaps.  Could he have feigned interest in accepting Islam to appease his captors?  Possibly.
But by clinging to the truth, by refusing to disavow his Jewish identity, Pearl has become far more than just a victim.  He has become a hero, a modern-day Jewish hero, one whose valor shines brighter for the entire world to see.

At a time when assimilation is rife throughout the West, when so many young Jews are abandoning their people, Daniel Pearl's words serve as a powerful reminder of Jewish courage and pride.  They demonstrate how, even under the most trying and difficult circumstances, Jews have always clung to their identity with tenacity and resolve, determined to prevent the flame of Israel from forever going out.

I never met Daniel Pearl, but I will always remember him.  His last words on this earth should guide us all in whatever circum-stances we may find ourselves.  They were perhaps his private last will and testament, but they should also serve as a charge to our entire people, one that we must strive ever more firmly to keep: 
"Yes, I am a Jew".
The writer served as deputy director of  Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.
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