Daniel Pearl, an American Jewish journalist, or a Jewish American journalist (only Daniel would have been able to tell me which) was working for the Wall Street Journal in 2002 when he was horrifically murdered by Islamic extremists, aka evil personified, in Pakistan. He was not an ‘observant’ Jew (I think I can say that even though ‘observant Jew’ is a relative term – Daniel’s father, Judea, in the book’s preface, says that his son was ‘not “religious” in the conventional sense’) but he was a proud Jew. Amongst his last words, words he spoke to his murderers, were the following:
“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish”
Daniel Pearl died for one reason only: he was Jewish. His ‘crime’ in the eyes of his executioners was simply that he was a Jew.
Following Daniel’s death, a young girl, Alana Frey, as her Bat Mitzvah project, inspired by Daniel’s last words, invited her family and Jewish friends to tell her what being Jewish meant to them. She compiled the answers in a booklet and sent them to Daniel’s baby son, Adam, so that “he would have an understanding of his heritage and his father’s words would always comfort him”. Daniel’s father, Judea, loved the project and thought it would be great if the theme could be continued by other children as Bar and Bat Mitzvah projects. However, it then occurred to Judea that the theme was so ‘powerful’ that it might ‘inspire contributions from a wide range of Jews from all walks of life and be of immediate benefit to the community as a whole (it has certainly been of benefit to me!). Such a book would provide both a valuable picture of how Jews define themselves and insightful new answers to the difficult question, “What does being Jewish mean to me?” ‘
‘Jews from all walks of life’ – some of the contributors:
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau
Rabbi Lord Dr. Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Patricia Karlin – Neumann
Sir Martin Gilbert
Rabbi Tony Bayfield
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth W. Messinger
Edgar M. Bronfman
Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi
Rabbi Rachel B. Cowan
Senator Joe Lieberman
Dr. David Hartman
Rabbi Uri Regev
There are many, many more contributors, some well known far and wide, others well known only in their professional and communal fields, some ‘religious’, others not ‘religious’. Some of the contributors are young children, not ‘famous’, who haven’t yet lived long enough nor had the life experiences to be able to fully contextualise what being Jewish means to them and yet what they say it does mean is still thought-provoking and sweet.
This book has given me food for thought. My coming across it now, in the midst of my own examination of what being Jewish means to me, is particularly opportune.
I am not going to comment on any of the ‘guest contributions’ – read them yourselves and enjoy – but I will say that what is interesting is that although the contributors come from varied walks of life, whilst some are very ‘observant’, others ‘secular’, there are some common strands running through the book, some elements of similarity linking most of the contributors.
I heartily recommend this book. I also applaud Judea and Ruth Pearl for the project which has given us this book and for the work that they and the Pearl family do in the name of Daniel: ‘The Daniel Pearl Foundation’.