It was an amazing evening
By Joyce Spielberger
Birmingham Jewish Federation, June 17, 2006


It was an amazing gathering at Temple Emanu-El Friday evening. About 30 Presbyterian commissioners arrived by chartered bus from the current Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly in Birmingham to join Temple Emanu-El for Shabbat services.


In attendance also were most of the 11 Presbyterian leaders who recently traveled to Israel as part of a fact-finding trip sponsored by the Committee to End Divestment Now.


The evening was further highlighted by the appearance of Dr. Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl. The California-based Simon Wiesenthal Center arranged for Dr. Pearl to be in Birmingham as part of its effort to combat the PC USA anti-Israel divestment push.


Dr Pearl began his talk with his son Daniel’s last words to his captors in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. Right before his throat was slit and he was then beheaded, Daniel Pearl looked into the camera set up by the terrorists who had kidnapped him and said, “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”


These 11 words, Dr. Pearl believes, were said not in defiance but as a solemn demonstration of the strength of Daniel’s heritage. What his executioners apparently mistook as a “confession,” people around the world saw as an act of defiance and dignity, affirmation of identity by a man who was not particularly religious but proud of who he was, said Dr. Pearl.


Dr. Pearl said his family could have turned to seeking swift and angry vengeance in response to Daniel’s murder. Instead they created the Daniel Pearl Foundation to address the terrible conflicts in the Middle East that led to Daniel’s murder. (See the link below for more information on the foundation.)


Temple Emanu-El will be ordering copies of “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl,” co-edited by Judea and Ruth Pearl. Contact Bruce MacIver at or 933-8037 if you would like to purchase a copy. Proceeds benefit The Daniel Pearl Foundation.


After services a congregational dinner was held in Abroms Hall where the Presbyterians who visited Israel spoke. Helping arrange the trip was the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, a network of Christians who work together to foster relationships between Jews and Christians based on their shared commitment to the security and well-being of Israel.


The purpose of the visit was to give participants an understanding of Israel and the challenges Israel faces keeping its citizens safe. The trip included meetings with Christian, Jewish and Moslem business and political leaders, a tour of Israel’s security barrier and participation in an Israeli relief project that distributed food to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.


Rev. Ed Hurley, of Birmingham’s South Highland Presbyterian Church, was on the trip. He said he found it surprising that an elaborate security facility had to be constructed to enable the Israelis to deliver the food as there have been attacks on the Israelis by Palestinians despite Israel’s efforts to help them.


The Presbyterian group also visited a school in Sderot, a Jewish community near the Gaza border. The previous week a Palestinian-fired rocket had come through the roof of the school, five minutes before the students arrived. Since that incident, more than 100 rockets have been fired at Sderot.


Rev. Hurley held up an English test paper taken by one of the students a day after the rocket attack. That piece of paper helped Rev. Hurley understand the emotional tension between the security struggles Israelis face every day and the need to conduct life as normally as possible.


At the dinner, Rev. Jean Price, of Houston, talked about meeting a young Israeli man on her recent flight to Israel. When she told the young man she was Presbyterian, he asked her why she was going to Israel. “Hasn’t your church hurt us enough?” he asked.


“We have made a mistake,” she said in referring to the PC USA push for divestment and she expressed her hope that her church would do the right thing and rescind the policy.




BJF staff member Joyce Spielberger has worked as a liaison to the Committee to End Divestment Now, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, helping with their efforts in Birmingham during the PC USA conference. Joyce’s activities have been part of the work done by a Birmingham Jewish Federation Jewish Community Relations Committee task force chaired by Rabbi Jonathan Miller and Steven Brickman.