By Ron Kampeas
(JTA) — Ruth Pearl, who dedicated the latter part of her life to preserving the legacy of her son Daniel, a journalist who was murdered in Pakistan, has died at 85.
Pearl, who suffered from a lung ailment, died at her Los Angeles home on July 20.
On Jan. 23, 2002, Pearl woke up with a premonition that her son, then 38 and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was in peril, according to an account in The Washington Post. In an email, she asked her son to assure her that he was safe. She never heard back.
At that very moment, Daniel Pearl had been lured into a trap: Expecting to meet a source, he was kidnapped, and nine days later beheaded on videotape. Daniel Pearl was in Karachi to report on the actors and structures that brought about the 9/11 terrorist attacks several months earlier.
“My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish,” were among his final words.
Ruth and Judea Pearl sought to reconcile the privacy they craved to cope with their towering grief with the need to preserve the legacy of Daniel Pearl’s passions: music (he was a skilled violinist), journalism and being Jewish.
They launched the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which brings journalists from Muslim majority countries to the United States to work at news outlets and sponsors concerts. The Pearl Project at Georgetown University advances investigative journalism; its first investigation was into Daniel Pearl’s murder. Its conclusion: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks who remains captive in the U.S. jail at Guantanamo Bay, carried out the killing.
Judea Pearl has said that Ruth Pearl was proudest of the 2003 book she edited, I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl. She solicited essays from some of the best-known Jews of the time, including Elie Wiesel, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Edgar Bronfman.
Ruth Pearl was born Eveline Rejwan in Baghdad. In 1941, as a five-year-old, she hid out with Muslim neighbors during the Farhud, the massacre of 179 Jews in the Iraqi capital. The persecution that Arab militants aimed at Iraqi Jews helped shape her views.
“Dehumanizing people is the first step to inviting violence, like Nazism and fascism,” she said in testimony delivered to the Shoah Foundation of the University of Southern California.
When she was older, Pearl helped smuggle Jews to Israel and then immigrated herself, serving in new country’s Navy. Along the way she changed her name to Ruth. She met her husband at the Technion, and after graduation they moved to the United States, where she worked as a software developer.
In January, the Pakistan Supreme Court ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the sole figure involved in Daniel Pearl’s murder who was convicted, devastating the Pearls. The U.S. government says that Saeed remains a wanted man.
A lower court last year had ordered the British-born Saeed’s release, and the Pearls lost their appeal in the Supreme Court.
In a video appeal, Ruth Pearl explained to Pakistanis why they hoped to keep Saeed in jail.
“There’s not a single day that we don’t miss our son,” she said.
Along with her husband, Pearl is survived by two daughters; Daniel Pearl’s wife, Mariane; and five grandchildren. One of the grandchildren, Adam Daniel Pearl, was born after his father’s killing.
Main Photo: Ruth Pearl listens as President George W. Bush speaks to the media after meeting with Jewish community leaders in the White House, Dec. 10, 2007. (Matthew Cavanaugh-Pool/Getty Images)