Pearls see past pain of tragedy
By Jonathan Dobrer,
LA Daily News,
January 25, 2007


As with almost all extraordinary people, Judea and Ruth Pearl of Encino deny being extraordinary or even unusual. Perhaps this kind of modesty is, in fact, a mark of how unusual they are.


You may remember their son, Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was savagely beheaded by the Taliban while in Afghanistan working for The Wall Street Journal. Ironically, as well as tragically, he was trying to tell the story of the Afghan people with understanding and sympathy.


Most parents would be consumed with anger and fixated on revenge. But while the Pearls certainly feel the pain of loss every minute of every day, they have the all-too-rare attitude that they can best serve Danny’s memory not with their righteous rage but with learning, teaching and music. They are dedicated to building, rather than bombing, the bridges between disparate cultures — especially between America and the world of Islam.


They know something about other cultures. Judea Pearl was brought up in Israel, and Ruth was born in Iraq. In his home, Danny heard Arabic and Hebrew, French and English. It was this unique background that gave him his curiosity about the world and his drive to paint the word pictures that great journalism can create.


The Pearls try to ameliorate the conditions of ignorance and hate in parts of the Muslim world with programs and experiences of learning. They have created the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which underwrites and sponsors scholarships in journalism for Muslims the world over. They have funded internships that bring Muslim journalists from all over the world to work in newsrooms, from our largest national newspapers to our regional papers and even to our local Jewish Journal. (Yes, Muslim interns at the Jewish Journal!)


Judea Pearl is involved with ongoing public dialogues to promote understanding between the Jewish and Muslim communities. This is not just “making nice,” but is, as good and real therapy must be, a frank exchange of ideas and positions entailing a full airing of historically touchy and difficult issues.


Pearl believes — he knows — that there cannot be healing without truth. So he travels the world speaking with Muslims about the issues that both divide and unite us. He offers a model for telling each other hard truths with a generosity of spirit both rare and beautiful.


The Pearls’ is not a mission to build a mausoleum commemorating the violent and senseless death of their son. On the contrary, they want to remember Danny and for the world to know how Danny’s life was a thing of beauty — of hope and of understanding. The Israeli poet Amos Oz wrote that “when the Messiah comes we will not simply beat our swords into ploughshares, as is written in Isaiah, but will keep beating them until they become instruments of music.” In the meantime, the Pearls act as if that great day has already arrived, and they take the swords through their hearts and turn them into instruments of music. This is the mission of the Pearls. They are building a beautiful legacy of Danny’s life and work, a legacy filled with music, learning, dialogue and hope. They are taking their pain and turning it into the beauty of music — commissioning original pieces of music and promoting concerts in memory of Danny’s life.


Sunday I am going to see the Pearls at a special concert at Disney Hall, where Danny’s memory will be evoked in beauty. The justly celebrated composer Steve Reich has written an original composition, “Daniel Variations,” to be performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. I know this music will have charm to soothe the savage breast of some of our anger and pain, so that we might turn away from our rage and fear and toward each other with open hearts, open minds and open hearts.

This is what the Pearls want — and what they know Danny would have wanted.


Jonathan Dobrer is a professor of comparative religion at the University of Judaism in Bel-Air. Write to him by e-mail at