November 19, 2004

by Andrew Silow-Carroll
Dawn patrol

Today's NY Post has an article from one of its copy editors, Dawn Eden, criticizing the school district of South Orange and Maplewood, N.J., for banning religious music during its holiday concerts. Writes Eden, sensibly:

"Their children will miss out on some of the most challenging and enriching musical experiences of their high-school career all to satisfy administrators who'd rather please no one than make the effort to oversee a culturally diverse and rich holiday program."

I know the writer -- she contributed to the Forward when I was there -- and while she mentions in the piece that she has a "Jewish father" and that when she was a student in Maplewood "it wasn't always easy being a Jewish kid in the chorus," she does not mention, as she one told Gawker, that "I am indeed a Jew who's accepted Jesus as the Messiah."

Does it matter? I think so, in this case: Among the objections some parents might have to school-sponsored religious music is the fear that their children will be influenced by others' religious ideas. In that case, Eden's syncretic beliefs embody these fears. This topic begs for a discussion of those fears, even if to dismiss them; a writer as personally invested in the blending of Christian and Jewish ideas as Eden, and one who brings other biographical information into her essay, is being coy when she leaves her current beliefs out of the mix.

Her current beliefs also seem germane in the context of Eden's concluding line: "one of New Jersey's greatest music programs goes from Handel to scandal all so that students barred from singing about a living God can instead sing about a living snowman."

Were readers aware of her religious beliefs, they might interpret her use of the phrase "living God" not as a clever rhetorical trope, but the kind of theological assertion that is central to this issue. Is Eden arguing for musical literacy and "the power of inspirational music to bring people together," or does she want students exposed to the words of "the living God"?

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency retracted a story earlier this year when it turned out that the freelance writer who they assigned to cover a debate featuring a messianic Jew was herself a messianic Jew. My point, like theirs, is not that messianic Jews have no place writing about religion -- hardly. And nothing that Dawn wrote for the Forward suggested a conflict between her subject -- pop music -- and whatever her religious beliefs were at the time. But there are cases, and this is one, in which editors and readers deserve to know when a writer's personal and professional attachments to a story may influence what they write on the subject.


See comments by Dawn and others to my objections at

Posted by: asc at November 21, 2004 9:59 PM
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