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Jewish Journal

A Hero

by Rob Eshman

February 28, 2002 | 7:00 pm

A Hero

As The Journal went to press last week, word came that terrorist kidnappers in Pakistan had brutally murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

The news broke upon us with a special sting. Even as I write this, almost a week later, the sadness is acute, intransigent.

I didn't know Pearl. But contributing editor Tom Tugend, who reports on his death inside, has long been an acquaintance of Pearl's parents. The world lost a much-respected journalist, his family lost a loving son and brother, his wife Marianne lost a husband and father-to-be.

Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley, as Pearl did, and having attended Birmingham High School in the class three years before him, I do know that it is no stretch to see Pearl as a product of this community.

The L.A. Jewish community has produced many men and women like him: successful, passionate, committed not to an ideal lifestyle, but to ideals.

In Los Angeles, Pearl experienced a world enriched by the differences of its inhabitants. The particular community Pearl arose from, the Jewish one, was a part of that mosaic. Pearl dedicated his life to closing the distances between peoples by increasing their understanding of one another. Ultimately, he gave his life for this.

Since Pearl's death, most of the media commentary has rightly praised his courage as a foreign correspondent. Indeed, his determination to shed light on a culture different from our own led to his capture.

But what led to his murder was something else.

We may never know what part his being Jewish played in his death. The war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of eight journalists, Jewish and not. And the cowards who killed Pearl have vowed to kill any and all Americans.

But the fact is that according to a recently released videotape, Pearl looked into his captors' camera and said, "My name is Daniel Pearl. I'm a Jewish American. My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am a Jew." Then they killed him.

That makes Pearl more than just a journalistic hero. He died not just in seeking the truth, but in telling the truth about who he was and what he believed in. What Pearl's killers took as an admission of his guilt was really an affirmation of his faith.

Daniel Pearl was an astonishingly brave and good man. His memory will be a light not only to his family, but to us all.



A Way to Help

The 200,000-strong Argentine Jewish community is weak to the point of collapse. As reported in these pages last week, the currency devaluation that followed an economic meltdown in that country this winter has left a thriving, mostly middle-class community destitute.

Hit particularly hard are the banks and small businesses that formed the core of the Jewish community's prosperity. Now, with the poverty rate approaching 25 percent, food and shelter are no longer certainties. Around 20,000 Argentine Jewish families are on welfare and need assistance.

The Dec. 20 riots that led to the downfall of President Fernando de la Rua and the increase in post-collapse crime have added a sense of physical peril to the community's economic woes.

For some Argentine Jews, the answer is immigration, either to Israel, which expects an influx of between 5,000-20,000 Argentines, or to other countries, especially the United States. For those who choose to remain in Argentina, the answer is economic assistance now, and for the foreseeable future.

How can we help? The Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee have turned to the North American Jewish communities to raise approximately $42.5 million to support aliyah and relief efforts that could eventually total more than three times that. Los Angeles, the second largest Jewish community, has been asked for $2.125 million of that sum.

The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles has been through troubled and often controversial times over this past year. But, as it demonstrated in its emergency fundraising for the victims of Sept. 11, The Federation is an ideal vehicle through which we can help Jews and others facing immediate danger. The Federation board has committed to provide Argentine Jewry with Los Angeles' fair share -- $2.12 million.

This Sunday, Federation phone volunteers will call seeking donations as part of the annual Super Sunday phone-a-thon. You can direct your donations toward Argentine relief, or give toward the overall campaign, which serves dozens of agencies and needs here, in Israel and elsewhere -- including Argentina.

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