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Daniel Pearl’s Polish Chasidic roots

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LOS ANGELES, Sept. 19 (JTA) — Daniel Pearl’s parents have never seen the videotape of his final statements, but according to detailed transcripts and a description from the U.S. consul in Karachi, Pearl’s statements before his decapitation fell into two categories. The first consisted of an affirmation of his Jewishness. Though they appear to be of one piece, the statements actually were given in three different takes. In the first statement, Pearl said, “I am American, I am Jewish (some unintelligible words) my family on my father’s side is Zionist.” In the next segment, Pearl said, “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” In the third statement, he said, “My family follows Judaism. We made numerous family visits to Israel. Back in the town of Bnei Brak there is a street named after my great-grandfather, who was one of the founders of the town,” Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father, believes that the three statements were made freely by his son, and delivered willingly and with relative ease. According to many reports, Daniel Pearl conveyed a certain sense of pride while affirming his Jewishness, and his father believes that the reference to the street in Bnei Brak, which the captors could not possibly have known about, was meant as a signal to Pearl’s parents that he was in good condition. On the other hand, a subsequent monologue in which Pearl denounced U.S. policies and the killing of Palestinians by Israelis — against background TV footage of the intifada — clearly was made under duress, Judea Pearl says. “He was purposely mispronouncing words, such as ‘Amrica’ instead of ‘America,’ and inserted long ‘uuhhs’ between words,” Judea Pearl says. Judea, or Yehuda, his given Israeli name, was raised in an Orthodox family, but he and his son rarely practiced Judaism, except for holiday observances. Nevertheless, “Danny loved Judaism,” Judea Pearl said. Daniel Pearl was curious about his Judaism, and the two engaged in a self-invented game in which they challenged each other’s knowledge of Pirkei Avot, a historic Jewish text. Clips of Daniel Pearl’s life, screened at a memorial service in March, showed him celebrating his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They also showed a 1986 trip to Moscow where Daniel Pearl met with refuseniks and was instrumental in bringing one family to the United States. Also chronicled was a journey on the Trans-Siberian railroad to China, where Daniel Pearl conducted an impromptu Passover seder, using rice cake for lack of matzah. He remembered the ritual from his own boyhood, when he recited the Four Questions at family seders. The great-grandfather mentioned on the abductors’ tape was Chaim Pearl, who grew up in Poland. According to family history, Chaim Pearl was attacked one day by a peasant with an iron bar. Afterward, he went home and told his wife, “Start packing. We’re leaving.” The couple was one of 26 families, all Gur Chasidim, who in 1924 founded the fervently Orthodox enclave of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, where Chaim Pearl changed his occupation from merchant to farmer. As for his great-grandson, Daniel Pearl met and married his wife, Mariane, the daughter of a Dutch Jewish father and Cuban Catholic mother, in Paris. Mariane Pearl, who converted to Buddhism at age 16, spoke movingly of her life with Daniel Pearl at a Los Angeles memorial service in March. She is slated to visit her in-laws — and introduce them to their three-month old grandson, Adam — later this month.

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