Up until the very last moment, the family of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl never lost hope that he would be released by his Pakistani kidnappers and return safely.
Dr. Judea and Ruth Pearl simply could not believe that anyone could harm a son they described as “such a gentle soul … the musician, the writer, the storyteller, the bridge builder.”
Elsewhere in their statement, Pearl’s parents and sisters, Tamara and Michelle, remembered their son and brother as a “walking sunshine of truth, humor, friendship and compassion.”
The family’s unflagging hope was best illustrated in an e-mail message the father sent to members of a local Israeli choir only a few hours before the U.S. State Department confirmed the brutal slaying of the Wall Street Journal reporter.
After nearly a month of torturous waiting, Judea Pearl told fellow musicians of the LA-Shir choir, a group he had founded, “We have learned to cope with the ups and downs of the situation…. We are confident that he will return to us, and fairly soon. When that happens, we will all celebrate his homecoming event with Handel’s ‘Hallelujah.'”
The family’s grief has been shared by a circle of Pearl’s close friends, many of whom date their friendship back to student days at Lanai Elementary School, Portola Junior High and Birmingham High School in the San Fernando Valley.
One old friend recalls participating in a Passover seder at the Pearl home, but apparently the family was not religiously observant in the conventional sense.
“The Pearls are not affiliated with a synagogue, but they are deeply attached to their heritage and very cognizant of who they are,” said Gary Foster, the family spokesman.
Israeli newspapers reported that Pearl had celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall.
A San Fernando Valley rabbi, who is also a practicing psychologist, has been counseling the Pearl family in Encino for the past few weeks. A community prayer service was held Wednesday at Valley Beth Shalom.
Some of Daniel Pearl’s closest friends were fellow backpackers between 1978-81 in an Explorer Post, a coed affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America. One was Rachel Knopoff, now a Manhattan Beach physician, who remembered Daniel Pearl as “the greatest guy I have ever known. I had a huge crush on him, and so probably did most of the girls in the troop. He was the funniest, smartest, nicest guy I ever met.”
Attorney John Liebman served as adviser to the Explorer Post and went with the teenagers on long hikes, bicycle trips, sailing excursions and skiing expeditions.
“They were an extraordinary, highly motivated group of kids,” said Liebman, who recalled Daniel Pearl as “obviously highly intelligent, with a fine sense of humor and easy to get along with.”
Liebman’s son, Scott, a lifelong friend of Pearl, added a few more descriptive adjectives in a phone call from San Francisco, such as “brilliant, funny, wry and sensitive.”
At Birmingham High in Van Nuys, whose student body observed a minute of silence in honor of their slain alumnus, Pearl “was the teenager everyone wanted to be,” observed the L.A. Daily News.
“He was the smart, funny kid who was a cultural counterpoint to the mall-hopping, materialistic Valley Girl world of the 1970s and early 1980s.”
Pearl grew up in a family that nourished the intellectual and musical talents he was to display later on.
After graduating from the Technion in Haifa, Judea Pearl and his wife Ruth, an electrical engineer, moved to New Jersey for graduate studies and to work at the RCI research center. Their son was born there in 1963.
In 1970, Judea Pearl joined the faculty at UCLA and in the following decades earned a reputation as a computer scientist and a leading researcher in the field of artificial intelligence.
Judea Pearl was elected to the elite National Academy of Engineering in 1995 “for developing the foundation for reasoning under uncertainty,” and earlier spent a sabbatical year at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
Just before his son’s abduction, Judea Pearl was notified of a $10,000 award from the London School of Economics for a recent book on his pathbreaking studies.
During the month following Pearl’s kidnapping, there was deep concern that publication of his family’s Israeli roots would further endanger his life.
Foster and other representatives of Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal’s parent company, worked intensively behind the scenes in New York, Los Angeles and overseas to alert news organizations to the danger inherent in publishing the names of Pearl’s parents, or their background.
“We were particularly anxious that networks reaching large international audiences, such as CNN and BBC, would not break the news,” Foster said.
In a remarkable display of professional restraint and solidarity, all media, including The Jewish Journal, complied with the strictures.
Since the death announcement, major newspapers have reported, without elucidation, that Pearl’s parents have remained Israeli citizens. The reality is a little more complex.
Since Israeli citizenship can be lost only through a formal renunciation, almost all Israelis who move permanently to a different country automatically retain their original citizenship, even while assuming the citizenship of their new country.
In that sense, Foster confirmed, Judea and Ruth Pearl carry dual United States and Israeli citizenship, while their son, born in the United States, has always considered himself solely an American citizen.
However, Israeli law considers a child of Israeli citizens, such as Pearl, also Israeli, even if he was born in the United States and does not carry an Israeli passport. The daily Haaretz reported that Judea. Pearl had chided the Israeli press for first making public this information, fearing that it might adversely affect the investigation by Pakistani officials and the return of his son’s body.
A foundation has been established, primarily in supportof the journalist’s widow, Mariane, and their unborn first child, who is due inMay. Contributions can be sent to the Daniel Pearl Family Foundation, care ofthe Wall Street Journal, P.O. Box 300, Princeton, NJ 08543. Tributes to Pearland reprints of some of his articles can be found at the Web site of the SouthAsian Journalist Association, www.saja.org/pearl.html .