Ruth Pearl, the mother of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was brutally murdered by Muslim extremists in Pakistan in 2002, thrusting her and her husband, Judea, into the global spotlight, died July 20 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 85.
Pearl's husband confirmed her death but did not specify the cause.
Ruth Pearl, born in Iraq, was a retired software developer living in LA when Daniel Pearl, 38, The Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, was kidnapped while reporting in Karachi, Pakistan. Daniel Pearl began his career at The Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript back in the 1980s. Despite pleas from his parents and desperate efforts to win his release by the U.S. government, his kidnappers beheaded him Feb. 1, 2002, recording a video of his last words: “My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish.”
Daniel Pearl’s murder came just months after 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by the United States and its allies. His murderers singled him out because he was American and Jewish, a fact that many observers said underlined the particularly virulent threat posed by Islamic radicals.
At first, the Pearls tried to avoid the news media, releasing statements and speaking to a small number of reporters.
They opened up later in the year to promote a book of Daniel’s journalism and to announce a foundation they had established in his name. They appeared on talk shows such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live,” but the experience was difficult: Although they wanted to talk about his legacy, many reporters and talk-show hosts wanted to dwell on his murder.
“We want to keep our privacy,” Ruth Pearl told the Los Angeles Times in 2002. “We don’t want our pictures in the paper. We want to deal with our grief in private. We don’t want to be talking about it.”
In 2003, the Pearls published “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl,” which included essays by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kirk Douglas and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer. Judea Pearl said his wife, who did most of the editing and contributed an essay, considered it her greatest accomplishment.
“Like many generations before us, we are now embarking on a new war against anti-Semitism and fanaticism,” she wrote. “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.”
In 2007, they were back in the news with the release of the film “A Mighty Heart,” based on a memoir by Daniel Pearl’s widow, Mariane, and starring Angelina Jolie and Dan Futterman. That winter, they attended the White House Hanukkah reception, where they lit their family’s menorah.
Eventually the attention died down, and the Pearls were able to focus on their foundation’s charitable efforts, which included fellowships for Muslim journalists, university lecture series and an annual music festival; their son, in addition to being an acclaimed reporter, was a classically trained violinist.
But his murder continued to haunt them, and not only as a memory. Although his killers had been quickly arrested and sentenced — one to death, three to life in prison — they became causes célèbres in Pakistan. High-profile efforts to win their release quickly gained traction, and the Pearls stayed engaged with the proceedings from LA.
In 2020, a Pakistani court overturned the murder convictions and reduced the sentences for kidnapping to time served. The Pearls, through a lawyer, appealed, as did the Pakistani government; the Pakistani Supreme Court is scheduled to consider both appeals later this summer.
In a video the couple released in June 2020, Ruth Pearl, who by then was struggling with respiratory problems, appealed to the Pakistani people to support their efforts.
“There’s not a single day that we do not miss our son,” she said.
She was born Eveline Rejwan on Nov. 11, 1935, in Baghdad. Her father, Joseph Rejwan, was a tailor and ran an import business, and her mother, Victoria (Abada) Rejwan, was a homemaker.
Along with her husband, Pearl is survived by her sister, Carmella; her daughters Michelle and Tamara; and five grandchildren.
Ruth Pearl was 5 when a failed coup led to an outbreak of anti-Jewish violence across Iraq. In what came to be known as the Farhud, Jewish-owned stores were ransacked, and at least 179 Jews were killed. Her family hid in their home for days, protected by Arab neighbors, who told would-be looters, “There are no Jews here.”
Soon after, the family moved to a suburb, but the violence continued. Joseph Rejwan was beaten while riding his bicycle, resulting in the loss of vision in one eye; he later had to bribe a police officer to free his two sons after their arrest on false charges. Others were less lucky. Ruth Pearl recalled seeing the bodies of Iraqi Jews hanging from gallows in a square.
“Growing up as a Jewish child in Baghdad,” she wrote in “I Am Jewish,” “left me with recurring nightmares of being chased by a knife-wielding Arab in the school’s stairway while 2,000 schoolmates screamed hysterically.”
In the late 1940s, she worked with an underground Zionist movement that helped Jews sneak into British-controlled Palestine. As part of her preparation to do the same, she began to use the Hebrew name Ruth.
In 1948, her brothers were smuggled into Israel, then newly independent, and in 1951, she and the rest of her family — her parents and two sisters — followed them as part of a mass exodus of Iraqi Jews.
She served in the Israeli navy before attending Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, where she studied electrical engineering. It was where she met Judea Pearl.
The couple married in 1960 and moved to New Jersey to pursue graduate degrees, he at New York Polytechnic (today the New York University Tandon School of Engineering) and she at the Newark Institute of Technology (today the New Jersey Institute of Technology).
In 1966, they moved with their three young children to LA, where he taught at UCLA, and she worked as a software developer.
She had retired by the time of her son’s murder, and afterward she threw herself into running the Daniel Pearl Foundation. Her grief drove her, she said, but so did her memories of growing up in Iraq and her desire to counter the hatred both she and her son had encountered.
“Dehumanizing people is the first step in inviting violence like Nazism and fascism,” she said in a 2014 interview. “We have to do our share, and that’s the part that’s the most difficult to get people to realize. It’s very easy to dehumanize. I’m sure the killers of Danny had no sense of identifying with the humanity that connects us. For them, Danny was an object.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.