Kindest wishes from New Zealand

I think it was David Ben-Gurion who once jokingly observed that Israel might have possibly saved itself a bit of bother early on by adopting the name of Palestine. But even the great pragmatist would have surely drawn the line — even in jest — at changing the name of the Jewish state to Kindness.

The long-time director of an arts festival in New Zealand was recently forced to apologize for removing the word “Israel” from a planned children’s performance of a song in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, scheduled to be performed here in my hometown later this year.

Mary Pritchard, who has coordinated the Artsplash festival in Wellington for the last 30 years, had tweaked a line, “Children of Israel are never alone” in the song Close Every Door, so it would be sung as “Children of Kindness.”

“Kindness”? What on earth was Prichard thinking? Possibly of one of New Zealand’s most-revered sportsman, who shares the same name as the country in question and is said to be kindly. But that’s not what local sports announcers call Israel Dagg.

In a less-than-helpful explanation, Pritchard said her decision to remove the word had been made to “keep life simple” at a festival for primary school children. This didn’t go down well with the musical’s composer, Sir Tim Rice, who described it as “terribly meaningless and drippy,” and withdrew permission for the musical to be staged until the decision was revoked.

The event’s main sponsor, the Wellington City Council, subsequently apologized and reinstated the debilitating word.

This past week Rice fleshed out some of his criticisms in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

“I thought the point of teaching was to teach children to cope with hard things in life,” Sir Tim said. “This was moronic.”

He added: “I mean Joseph is an innocent story straight from the Bible and these people in New Zealand thought we were making statements about Israel and Palestine — bonkers.”

No doubt it was that. But the suspicion lingers that this was ultimately a charitable explanation for what had been a nasty lyrical intercession.

Somehow, one suspects, Pritchard may not have made a similar “mistake” on this American Independence Day by arranging for a performance of cover versions of Bruce Springsteen anthems — including that well known signature hit, Born In The Kindest Day.

About the Author
David Cohen is a Wellington-based author and journalist whose work appears frequently in publications around the world.
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