Martyrology is the part of the service where Jews remember the people who were killed for no reason other than being a Jew. While much of the service at the conservative synagogue that I attend is in Hebrew (half the time I have to look at the translation, but it just feels more religious for some reason), the martyrology service is not. In fact, much of it is stories and poetry.
For example, one story is one that many Jewish kids learn in hebrew school, that post-school school I suffered through on Tuesdays and Thursdays that screwed me out of being able to play any sports. That story is about Hannah and her seven sons. To give you the gist of the story, Hannah and six of her sons are killed, one at a time, when they each refuse to bow down to a king, because only G-d can be bowed to in the Jewish faith (and even then, Jews only bow to the ground once a year, on Yom Kippur). After killing Hannah and her six sons, the king, presumably in a sense of mercy, tells the youngest son that he will drop something on the floor and the youngest son can simply pick it up, making it look that he has bowed before the king and sparing his life. Yet, the youngest son refuses. Rather, he decides that it is more important that people not get the impression that he will bow before anyone other than G-d, even at the expense of his life.
Hearing it for the first time, the story is a powerful one, but after hearing it all your life, you become a bit desensitized to it. Particularly because it seems so far off, with a story that is so inapplicable to living in a democratic country, where there aren't all-powerful kings and instantaneous death sentences.
But the martyrology service doesn't just tell old stories, it tells of one of the most significant recent events in the Jewish cultural zeitgeist: the Holocaust. There's a recitation of the death camps and a remembrance of those lost.
But this year, something stuck out at me. It was a poem written by an anonymous author and found engraved in the wall of a ghetto. It said:
I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining.
I believe in love, even when I don't feel it.
I believe in God, even when He's silent.
What was so different for me about this poem was that it wasn't an event I couldn't relate to. It was the Holocaust. It wasn't even a generation ago. And there are people who are still alive who suffered unimaginable horrors in it.
So, as I imagine it does with many Jews, its an event that resonates with me. But I can't help but think of the Holocaust as something in the past, even though it was the recent past. So, I didn't really consider what it was to be a martyr after I heard the shofar blow ending Yom Kippur.
Today is Daniel Pearl's birthday.
Daniel Pearl was a journalist and he was Jewish.
In 2002, when Daniel Pearl went to the Pakistan to report on the war for the Wall Street Journal, he was kidnapped and likely tortured. Before his captors murdered him by beheading him while he was still alive, they videotaped him saying the following: "My name is Daniel Pearl. I'm a Jewish-American. My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am a Jew."
And that's what's so strange. Daniel Pearl wasn't even a religious Jew. In fact, if you had asked him, Daniel Pearl would probably have rated being Jewish pretty low on the list of things that identify him.
Yet, he was viciously murdered for no reason other than his religious culture by ignorant savages who blamed him, and me, for all the world's ills.
Like all real martyrs, he was a reluctant one.
No, that's too much. Actually, he didn't even want to be one.
But, now, he is.
And the fact that he is a martyr, rather than a journalist, father and husband are the things that test belief.
Yet, it would be so much better not to have to believe in the face of such deafening silence.