Jewish Journal

Remembering Danny

by Tom Tugend

Posted on Mar. 14, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Daniel Pearl's childhood friend Daniel Gill, 38, speaks to reporters next to a 1999 wedding  photo of Pearl and his  wife Mariane at the Skirball March 10. Photo courtesy of AFP

Daniel Pearl's childhood friend Daniel Gill, 38, speaks to reporters next to a 1999 wedding photo of Pearl and his wife Mariane at the Skirball March 10. Photo courtesy of AFP

When Daniel Pearl was a baby, his parents noticed a curious omission in his genetic makeup -- he was born entirely without malice.

"When he was a few months old, we had to pull out a cushion on which he was lying. Danny didn't cry, he just rearranged his position," recalled his father, Dr. Judea Pearl.

The ability to quietly adapt and cope with any situation characterized the life of Pearl. The Wall Street Journal reporter, who was kidnapped and slain in Pakistan while working on a story about Islamic extremists, was remembered by relatives and friends at a private memorial service.

It was this adaptability and a knack for getting out of tight situations that buoyed the hope of his wife, parents and friends during an almost monthlong wait after Pearl's abduction on Jan. 23.

"We were sure that some good fairy would take care of him, and she did for 38 years," said his father.

More than a dozen speakers at the 2 1/2-hour service, held March 10 at the Skirball Cultural Center, testified to Pearl's lasting impact on their lives and to his astonishing range of interests.

There was the accomplished musician and violinist, the goofball kid, the brightest student in the class who never showed off and the klutzy baseball player who somehow always came up with the ball. Later, he became the journalist who talked to any stranger and found even boring people intriguing, who looked for the shades of gray in the world rather than the obvious black-and-white extremities.

Then there was the son of Israeli-American parents, growing up in the San Fernando Valley, who in his last words before his execution, affirmed his Jewish identity (see story page 32).

A slide show and video collage illustrated some of the stages in his life: the bar mitzvah celebration at the Western Wall in Jerusalem; a trip to Moscow in 1986, where he met with Russian-Jewish refuseniks and was instrumental in bringing one family to the United States, and a journey on the Trans-Siberian railroad to China, where he conducted an impromptu Passover seder, using rice cakes for lack of matzah.

Some 450 invited guests attended the service, some coming from as far as Pakistan, India and England. One guest was boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who had made an impassioned plea for Pearl's release.

In words and song, those on the stage and in the audience, celebrated Pearl's extraordinary life and gift for friendship. Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom recalled a man who "saw journalism as a calling" and was relentless in his search for truth.

LA-Shir, a Los Angeles Hebrew choir, formerly directed by Judea Pearl, sang "Uf Gozal," a Hebrew song that included the lyrics "Take wing, nestling/ Cut through the heavens/ Fly wherever you wish/ But don't forget/ There are vultures in the sky/ Beware."

In a different musical style, members of Pearl's old band, Clamp, performed a song composed during a jam session to help a pregnant friend deliver her overdue baby. The refrain was, "Come out, come out, the world is not such a bad place."

The last speaker was Pearl's wife, Mariane, who is expecting their first child, a son, in May.

"Living with Danny was like living in a comic book. So many things happened to us all the time," she said.

When they married in 1999, the couple wrote their own wedding contract, in which they pledged to be open to all cultures and to inspire others by the example of their own relationship.

Shortly before Pearl was kidnapped, his pregnant wife asked him whether, after moving from Paris to Bombay, they might finally settle down. No, he replied, "We're going to change the world."

Mariane Pearl concluded by saying, "I have made a commitment that Danny will live through me and my son.... They may have blown out a candle, but the light is still on."

Two funds have been established in the slain journalist's memory. The Daniel Pearl Foundation is to support causes that inspired his life, including promotion of cross-cultural understanding and prevention of hate-based violence.

The Daniel Pearl Memorial Trust will benefit his wife and their son. For details, log onto www.4charity.com/danielpearl .

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