I am Jewish - Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl

 

I am Jewish - Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl

By Ruth Messinger

The last words of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by terrorists in Pakistan, were, "I am Jewish." Daniel's parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, asked Ruth Messinger and others to submit a short essay on what being Jewish means to them. Below is Ruth's essay that appeared in I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Lights, 2004).

Daniel, I believe that the pursuit of justice is a goal that we both shared passionately. And I know this pursuit is based on our strong Jewish foundation. As taught to our people for centuries: "Justice, justice you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20).
Your pursuit led you to truth-seeking, to journalism, and ultimately to the perils of Pakistan. My pursuit has taken me from local politics to communities around the world: from El Salvador to Afghanistan, Uganda to Ukraine. Where you sought justice with the pen, I seek justice through service.

As a Jew, I feel a deep responsibility to assist those in the world who are the most beleaguered - the millions living in abject poverty who are determined to carve out respectful lives for themselves and their families.

Holding a deep attachment to the land and people of Israel, I feel compelled to go beyond the focus on Israel and Jews in need to help all people in need fulfill their visions, particularly those who are among the poorest of the poor in the developing nations of the world.

As a Jew, I am working with grassroots groups in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia, and Ukraine, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, and defeating the oppressions that plague so many. And I envision a day when service by Jews, in a Jewish context, will become a rite of passage in and for the Jewish community. It will be done by people of all ages, from teens to seniors, and involve work with Jews and non-Jews.

The Torah reminds us at least thirty-six times to "remember the stranger," as we were strangers in a strange land. Jewish service in these non-Jewish, strange lands will take us outside ourselves to work for social justice in a place or with people who are in some ways different from us. We will do this in a Jewish context, fulfilling the highest form of tzedakah by helping people help themselves; in the process, the work will transform our community and our world.

Through service, Jews will become effective agents in the world, working against growing alienation and creating global community. We will make a contribution in a world in which there is an increasing need for experiences that promote cross-cultural understanding. We will foster critical thinking, concern for others, and political and social diplomacy. We will make a dramatic difference in attracting Jews to more active Judaism, changing the ways in which Jews are seen around the world and changing the ways in which Jews understand their global obligations.

Service is my way of encountering God in the world, since God can only be found in our response to the needs of others. Through this response we can hope to fulfill the mitzvah of tikkun olam (repairing the world). As our tradition teaches in Pirkei Avot, "It is not for us to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it."


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