Friday, February 01, 2013

The Mayor and the Martyr: The last words of Daniel Pearl

Ed Koch, a sort of great mayor, who was always unabashedly Jewish, died this morning. He's chosen to quote the martyr Daniel Pearl on his tombstone, which already stands in Trinity Church's cemetery.



I think that's powerful and beautiful and meaningful, and probably somewhat necessary given that Koch chose to be buried in a gentile boneyard. (Credit @azigra for that insight.)

My one small complaint is that the whole online universe is characterizing "My father was a Jew... etc." as Pearl's defiant last words --  perhaps because so much of the history of antisemitism has consisted of gentiles demanding that Jews foresake their identities.

The monsters Pearl faced were different. They weren't attempting to make him give up his Judaism. They were forcing him to admit it. "My father was a Jew..." is part of a confession that Peal's captors forced him to deliver right before they murdered him. After "My father was a Jew..." Pearl was forced to recite more propaganda --including a denouncement of  Israel and America.

There's no intended criticism here of either Pearl or Koch. The martyr said what his captors wanted him to say and the mayor turned the forced confession into a declaration of faith. All of that is well and good, but its also well and good to remember what the words meant when they were first said.

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