The Pearls harness activism to grief
By Tina Daunt, Times Staff Writer
June 22, 2007

GRIEVING parents have two choices: They can lose themselves in pain, or they can work to create meaning out of tragedy.


Ruth and Judea Pearl have chosen the latter.


But after choice comes struggle.


Five years ago, their son, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped while investigating Al Qaeda activities and financing in Pakistan.


His captors, who selected Pearl as their victim because he was Jewish, ultimately murdered him, leaving not only his parents to grieve but also his pregnant wife, the French-born journalist Mariane Pearl.


Their story is the subject of “A Mighty Heart,” which is based on Mariane’s memoir. The film, which opens today, stars Angelina Jolie. (At a recent screening of the movie at the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles, Jolie told Daniel Pearl’s parents that she hoped she and the cast “have done right by you.”)


“We are hoping the movie will bring curiosity about Danny,” said Judea Pearl, a UCLA professor who started a foundation with his wife to promote greater cultural understanding in the wake of his son’s death. “We want people to learn about his legacy. We can’t let this happen again.”


On a recent afternoon in their San Fernando Valley home, Ruth and Judea Pearl talked about the son they once sent off to Stanford University with a duffle bag of clothes and his beloved violin on his back.


“When he got there, what we didn’t realize is they didn’t have any bedding,” Ruth Pearl said. “He didn’t have a pillow. He didn’t have a car. But he had his violin.” (Of course, she sent a huge care package overnight with a note telling him she loved him.)


“He loved life. He loved people. Everywhere he went, he made friends,” she said. “He connected with people through music in every city he lived in. When he got married, six bands played at the wedding.”


Daniel Pearl, a classically trained violinist, became an equally accomplished journalist with a profound and empathetic interest in all the cultures of the Middle East. It was that hunger to understand other people and their motives that sent him on that fateful reporting trip though the dangerous streets of Karachi in 2002.


The story of that day and its aftermath remains so wrenching that it casts a shadow across a sunny afternoon at the hillside Encino house where Ruth and Judea raised their family.


The Pearls’ hospitality is cosmopolitan. They offer their visitor Turkish coffee and a comfortable seat in a living room filled with art and books. There are visual memories of their son everywhere, poster-size pictures propped against walls and family portraits, including pictures of Daniel Pearl’s son, Adam, now 5 and living in Paris with Mariane, in frames on tabletops.


It is a kind of quiet shrine not only to Daniel’s memory but also to his values. It’s the values that Ruth and Judea Pearl are hoping to make his legacy.