In his essay, he says he was unable to “escape” Judaism, how he was forced to hear “how important it was to remember where we had come from” and how Judaism is “intelligent and well-crafted on paper, yet completely oblivious to the outside world.” His road to self-discovery made him decide to leave the “Self-Chosen People,” as he calls his former religion derisively. So, does being Jewish mean something negative that needs to be overcome? I couldn’t imagine Daniel Pearl’s words being defined in terms in this ugliness and self-hatred.
I am using the most extreme examples. Some have described Judaism’s “primary value of seeking justice,” as what makes them Jewish. Others describe the sense of community they gain – that of a shared culture and history. Some discuss the love of education, or a sense of tradition. My favorite was a shared history of survival. All of these are nice things, but they don’t recall something so profound that a man would choose to speak of them before his death.
I love being Jewish. I love the history, the literature, the special relationship I feel I have with the world of Holiness. I feel tied to the Torah as my inheritance. I love Israel as my home. It’s something I never had to question because it is as integral to me as my own heartbeat, pumping away without me noticing. I am Jewish. It’s me.
Yet, if I push myself against the preverbal wall, I am still left wondering. What does it mean to be Jewish so profoundly that one would declare it before death? Unfortunately, I can’t ask Daniel what he meant.
So I will have to define that for myself. I am Jewish. My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am the descendant of people who have said those words at the cost of their rights, their property, their freedom and many times, their lives. There is something essential that the statement “I am Jewish” has, and it’s not something that the mind can understand.
It is the language of the soul, and it is an answer that takes an eternity to learn. In essence, I am Jewish is not a destination, but a journey. Where it goes is beyond us, but we know where the destination is – the destination of a martyr like Daniel. It leads to the supreme source of truth.