New Zealand arts festival apologizes for removing word Israel from ‘Joseph’ lyrics

Jun 19, 2017

(JTA) — The longtime director of an arts festival in New Zealand has apologized for removing “Israel” from a song in the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” scheduled to be performed there.

May Pritchard, who has coordinated the Artsplash festival for 30 years, said in a letter to the Wellington Regional Jewish Council and other critics of the change that the original words would be reinstated for the performance that will take place in September, the JWire Jewish news website reported.

The phrase “Children of Israel are never alone” in the song “Close Every Door,” which features Joseph and a choir of children, was altered to “Children of kindness.”

Pritchard said in her letter that she takes “‘full responsibility for this unfortunate and regrettable error.”

“You have my complete assurance that this was an unintentional and innocent error on the part of one of my team, and I apologize for it,” she said. “The person concerned, and myself for that matter, are religious people and would never consider intentionally doing anything racist or anti any religion.”

Pritchard said the festival has “always included children of all sorts of backgrounds, including Jewish.”

“There has never before been an incident of this sort, and I don’t expect there will be again,” she wrote, adding: “Action has been taken over the weekend to ensure that the original song words are all reinstated, with immediate effect.”

A local resident tweeted about the lyric change to “Joseph” lyricist Tim Rice, who responded in a tweet to the Wellington Local Council that the change was unauthorized. He also tweeted a thank you to the eagle-eyed resident, Kate Dowling, saying it was “a totally unauthorized change of lyric … Plus it’s a terribly drippy and meaningless alteration.”

David Zwartz of the Wellington Regional Jewish Council told JWire that since Rice has accepted an apology from the festival, “there is no reason why the performance of the song with the correct words shouldn’t go ahead.” He added that the word change “is an attempt to censor without explanation an event in Jewish history that took place about three-and-a-half thousand years ago. It is wrong to indicate to primary school children that something in the Jewish Torah – also included in the Christian Old Testament, and the Koran – needs to be altered, or avoided altogether.”

Swartz also said: “In the case of ‘Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ it is obviously something that inspired Sir Tim Rice and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to create uplifting and enjoyable words and music. Its universal acceptability is shown by the more than 20,000 performances of the work worldwide.”

The song was part of a songbook of music by well-known composers that was to be performed by schoolchildren. “Close Every Door” and two other songs from the “Joseph” musical were first removed from the songbook altogether and then reinstated after an outcry from Rice and his supporters.