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‘We will win this war’ — Ruth Pearl, in her own words

This is an excerpt from “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (2004), edited by Judea and Ruth Pearl. Ruth Pearl died July 20, 2021 at the age of 85.

Growing up as a Jewish child in Baghdad left me with recurring nightmares of being chased by a knife-wielding Arab in the school’s stairway while 2,000 schoolmates screamed hysterically. The screaming was a real and frequent occurrence triggered by sudden noise or a minor accident in a chemistry lab, a consequence of the trauma from the June 1941 looting and massacre of 180 Jews in Baghdad.

Ruth Pearl with Daniel (l) and Judea Pearl in 1995 in Washington, D.C.

Ruth Pearl with Daniel (l) and Judea Pearl in 1995 in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of The Pearl Project

I also remember my parents’ night vigils waiting for my two brothers to come home after their outings. Indeed, one time my father had to bail them out of jail with a bribe after they were arrested not far from home, just for being Jewish.

All that changed when we left for Israel in 1951. My acclimation to Israel was amazingly easy and natural, though my nightmares continued for many years. In Israel, one does not have to be an observant Jew to feel Jewish, an atmosphere that suited me perfectly. By the time my husband and I arrived in the United States in 1960 for postgraduate studies, I was a proud and secure Jew and did not expect anti-Semitism to ever touch my life.

I was raised in a moderately religious home and community, and I absorbed many of the attitudes and values from my Jewish heritage, such as empowerment to question, zeal for honesty, reverence for learning, and deep commitment to create a better world for the next generation. I tried to pass along to my children my ethical Judaism: a guilt-free, pragmatic religion with open-mindedness at its core.

My security and sense of justice were shattered with the murder of my son, Daniel.

Like many generations before us, we are now embarking on a new war against anti-Semitism and fanaticism. More than ever before, I am conscious of my Jewishness and my obligation to contribute to its preservation, for I feel bonded to people who share my values and my commitments. Driven by the vision of Danny — a proud Jew who continues to inspire people with his values and dignity—we will win this war, as did our ancestors for many generations.


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