A Portrait Of Sisters
I got an email a few weeks ago from rock journalist Dawn Eden Goldstein. I started reading her blog and talking to her on the phone and eventually decided to do a profile.
We talk by phone 1/24/04.
Luke: "What was the life you were expected to lead?"
Dawn: "My parents separated when I was five and divorced when I was six. My dad (who is now chairman of the department of biochemistry at George Washington University medical school) remarried a year after that. I was brought up by my mom. I have an older sister Jennifer and a younger brother from my dad's second marriage. I did not feel that my father had particular expectations for me. He wanted me to be happy, to get good grades, and to be to able support myself. My mother (an acting school graduate with a BA and MA in psychology) encouraged me in anything I wanted to do."
Luke: "What life did you intend to lead?"
Dawn: "I thought I'd be a writer or actress, something creative and exciting. The 9-5 world seemed boring.
"I went to New York University and graduated with a degree in communications.
"After college, I got my own apartment in a shoebox on the Upper West Side [of Manhattan], 88th St and Central Park West. I sublet from a friend Michael Mazzarella, the lead singer of The Rooks. It was an illegal apartment because it did not have a real window. It only had a skylight. It was 12 by 15 feet with the bathroom down the hall but it was $362.50 a month. I temped for what was then called Warner Communications, and all its different record labels and publishing companies.
"I wrote for national fan zines and magazines at NYU but I always thought my real job would be something I'd be more passionate about, like working in a record label's A&R department [Artists & Repertoire, the department that scouts and signs artists to the label]. By the time I graduated college, I had become a rock historian. I'd been obsessed with '60s pop from the age of 16. It took me so long for me to realize that journalism was something I should pursue as a career."
Luke: "How on earth did you come to believe in Jesus as God?"
Dawn: "From childhood, I never had a problem with Jesus. I read stories from the New Testament as a child and thought their spirit echoed the message of the Hebrew Bible. As I got older, I read some of the actual Gospels, along with much of the Hebrew Bible. It always seemed to me that if there were a Messiah, there was no reason why Jesus would not be him. But I lacked faith.
"Although I was a bat mitzvah, I was brought up by a single mom who followed whatever was the New Age flavor of the week. My own religious feelings were vague, but I knew there was something wrong with her going from truth to truth, without staying with one thing that was good and stable.
"When I was 16, my mother was taking me around the Rutgers campus as a possible college, and we saw a table at the student union where they were giving away free New Testaments.
"Mom picked one up and playfully asked me if she should take it. At that time, she was seeing a guru named Hilda speak at a Manhattan church once a week. Hilda believed that there was an impending invasion of good space aliens.
"I said, "Yes, Mom, you should take it. I've read it and it's good."
"When she took it home, she got as far as Matthew 5 before she broke down crying. She had found God, and, from then on, she stayed with him. It took me another 14 years to come around. During those years, I suffered from severe cyclical depression and was often suicidal. I never got manic--I'd be normal for a while, and then spiral downwards. I could be happy sometimes, but I had no real hope. I just thought that life stinks and then you die.
"When God entered my consciousness in October 1999, He gave me a message which I believe is consistent with Proverbs 1: "Some things are not meant to be known. Some things are meant to be understood." I had been trying to know God through intellectual effort, thinking that if I read enough about Him, or heard enough people who talked about Him, I would believe. God was telling me that I had to gain understanding of him first, and the knowledge would come after. I had no doubt that this understanding was faith in Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord led me to read Romans 5:1: "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
"My depression was healed the moment I received faith. I still have good days and bad days, and these days I have the 35-and-still-single angst, but I'll take normal blues over clinical depression any day of the week.
"The hardest person to tell in my family about my conversion was my sister. She's now a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College."
Luke: "How do you reconcile your interests in rock music with your Christianity?"
Dawn: "When I first had these intense faith experiences, one of the first things I wondered was, 'What do all my records mean to me now? What does my love of '60s pop mean to me now?' The message that I got was to continue as I was until receiving future orders, so to speak.
"I have become less passionate about pop but I feel no need to dump all these records. I still get excited when I hear about certain artists."
Luke: "Surely you knew what a filthy industry music is."
Dawn: "It did revolt me. I stayed a virgin until age 23 although I wouldn't say I was pure. I saw the drugs and the sex and I went the other way. I was pretty self-righteous about it. That was a way of protecting myself. Because I was writing mostly about '60s pop, most of the people I was writing about had been through the drugs and alcohol phase. They weren't trying to get me to snort cocaine with them. My editors weren't into that sort of thing either.
"I was on the fringes of the music industry. I wasn't in the center of the major record labels and the major production companies.
"I've attempted to inhale marijuana a handful of times, but a frightening experience in 1988 with a loaded cookie -- where I got heart palpitations -- put me off the stuff for good. I don't smoke so I don't really know how to inhale. I had a natural aversion to marijuana because it had been around my house when I was a child. My mother wasn't into it, but when she was a single mother in Galveston, Texas, in the company of musicians and actors, her friends would smoke it at parties in our apartment. I always hated marijuana as a child because I hated seeing grownups acting stupid."
Luke: "Which 1960s pop bands would Jesus listen to?"
Dawn laughs: "I can't say... I had to be prepped for faith, to get out of my depressed mindset. A band called The Millennium touched me. Band member and producer Curt Boetcher wanted to make music to heal people. He believed there was a certain vibration of music that would cause spiritual healing."
Luke: "How many hours have you spent listening to pop music?"
Dawn: "About 20,000 hours."
Luke: "How has that affected you?"
Dawn: "It's certainly ingrained a lot of music in me. It's made me think of things in terms of pop songs. Music has the same effect on me that scent has to a lot of people."
Luke: "What connection do you feel between rockn'roll and sex?"
Dawn: "Certainly from the beginning of my going to nightclubs, I felt a connection. When you're at a club, the music surrounds you and you can feel the vibrations. When I was 14 years old and seeing the Dream Syndicate at Maxwells, my first big nightclub experience. I remember feeling the vibrations and feeling that the music was making love to me. Nobody had made love to me at that point. That was a kind of loss of virginity.
"I associate rock music much more with romance than sex. Tonight I was thinking of the song Woman written by Paul McCartney, which was a hit for Peter & Gorden. It's romantic and wistful. Wistful -- that's my favorite adjective to associate with great pop music. Just thinking about songs tonight made me sad. There are songs I can't think about too much because they make me feel lonely. At the same time, they are cathartic. As long as I don't wallow in them, they can bring certain emotions to the fore and make me feel better for having worked through them."
Luke: "Has God ever spoken to you and what did He say?"
Dawn: "Yes, God spoke to me once. I don't like to tell this story because it is not as straightforward as people expect Christian testimonies to be.
"It was a voice in the early morning hours of October 23, 1999. It was a hypnagogic experience (between sleep and wakefulness). I was lying in bed and I couldn't move. I was conscious of the blood whooshing in my ears. Then I heard this female voice.
"I've always believed in thinking of God as a masculine figure. Even today, I find the concept of God speaking in a woman's voice almost offensive. That's one of the reasons I was convinced the experience was real -- my mind wouldn't have made up something like that.
"The voice was gentle and firm at the same time. It was definite and authoritative without sounding bossy. It said, 'Some things are not meant to be known. Some things are meant to be understood.'
"I woke and I knew something had happened but I couldn't remember it. Then later that day, I heard the voice again in my head and I realized."
Luke: "So what did it mean?"
Dawn: "I was directed to read Romans 5:1. "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." I looked up the origins of the Greek word for justification. I realized that through the 15 years I suffered from depression, I'd wanted to know God and I felt that would be the solution to my depression. I was unable to take the leap into faith. I realized I needed to step out into faith and submit myself to God and ask God to give me the knowledge of him."
Luke: "How did your dad and sister react to your conversion to Christianity?"
Dawn: "My dad was very understanding. By then my relationship with my dad had improved a lot. I think that was another thing that prepped me for faith. My mother and stepfather had had faith for 14 years. I didn't want my dad to think that I was now siding with my mom. He ended up taking it well.
"My sister was very uncomfortable with it. There was a week or two that I couldn't talk to her because she didn't want to hear about it. She was worried about me.
"Thankfully, my sister realized quickly that she couldn't deal without having me as her loving sister and friend, so she reconciled herself to the news.
"I was healed of my depression and I started to blossom as a person. Even if my father and sister questioned the validity of my faith, they couldn't question the fruits."
Luke: "Do you worry that your father and sister won't be in Heaven with you because they don't accept Jesus Christ?"
Dawn: "That is probably something I should worry about more. I'm not positive that I will see any of my loved ones in Heaven the way I do on earth."
Luke: "Do you worry that they are not going to be saved because they don't accept Jesus Christ?"
Dawn: "Again, that is probably something I should worry about more. I should be concerned with giving a good witness to them. It's hard because they are my family and I don't want to push them.
"I believe that people go to Heaven based on whether or not they recognize Jesus when they see him (even at the point of death)."
Dawn gives a few Bible verses to support her position. "I'd like to think that when my father and my sister die and they hear Jesus's voice and they are not going to get prideful and say, 'Hey, I've denied you my whole life. I'd look silly if I went to you now.' I'd like to think they will just come to him."
Luke: "Have you tried sharing the Gospel with your sister and father, and if so, how have they reacted?"
Dawn: "My dad took me to Israel to see my sister when she was going to school there. I gave him my Gideon's New Testament while we were there. And I talked to him about my faith. He said he was familiar with some of Jesus's sayings and he liked some of them. I'm sure you've heard Jews say that they think Jesus was a good teacher. That's the position I was brought up with as a child. 'If anyone asks you what you think of Jesus, we say, 'We think he's a good man. We just don't think he is God.'
"I do have a witness in the Dawn Patrol [blog]. My dad and my sister do read my blog and I have a lot of Christian messages there. That's my most active witnessing tool. The trick is to witness in such a way that it is not hitting the reader over the head but shows how I work my faith into my daily life."
Luke: "Do you think that the Jews crucify Jesus anew each day in their unbelief?"
Dawn: "No. I believe the promises God made to the Jews still stand. I don't believe in replacement theology (that the Church is now the real Israel).
"There are few people who deny Jesus with having knowledge of him. When you know Jesus's love, it's a difficult thing to refuse."
Luke: "How do you feel about that verse in the Gospel of Mathew (27:25): "His blood be on us, and on our children."
Dawn: "That's the quote that's been in the news lately. Abraham Foxman of the ADL is angry that that quote is still in Mel Gibson's The Passion.
"I don't understand the purpose of that quote being there. I believe it is an accurate rendition of what happened. The men who wrote the Gospels were witnesses and divinely inspired to choose which aspects of Jesus's life to be put down. I don't understand why God wanted that line to be put in there. Certainly people have used that line for anti-Semitism.
"Taken from the perspective of Jew who has accepted Jesus as her Messiah, it is a very happy quote. By being responsible for Jesus's death, these people, the Jews and their children, are going to have life in him. That's one of the mysteries and paradoxes of Jesus's death and resurrection. That it is impossible to have any part in his resurrection unless we are aware of our responsibility for his death."
Luke: "Why aren't you an active part of an organized Christian community?"
Dawn: "I've always had trouble being a joiner. That I can now go into an office and work a regular job is amazing. For years, I tried to make it as a freelance writer working from home. I preferred dealing with myself to dealing with other people. I could pick and choose my friends. I didn't want to be in a workplace where I didn't pick everyone around me.
"I'm easily bored. I don't like bad sermons. Also, I get annoyed when I go to a church and they'll mention the Jews in the sermon and they'll say something either wrong or offensive or patronizing. I hate that and it is such a common occurrence at churches that it just automatically gets my dander up. You could say that I go to churches and just wait for them to say something stupid about the Jews so I can leave."
Luke: "What's it been like for you to meet rock stars?"
Dawn: "It depends on who the rock star is. My pulse quickens anytime I meet anybody who I will be under pressure to interview."
Luke: "When has your pulse beat quickest when meeting a rock star?"
Dawn: "Both times I interviewed Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys). Once in 1988 and once in 1991. He was heavily medicated. He had a psychiatrist (Dr. Landy) who controlled his life from the mid '70s to the late '80s. His family had to sue to separate him from Dr. Landy.
"The second time I interviewed Brian, he had just come out from under Dr. Landy's control. Landy had equipped Brian with this bodyguard known as the "surf nazi," who would follow him everywhere. Now there was no surf nazi. In the middle of the interview, Brian wanted to use the restroom. I pointed to him where it was. He asked me to follow him out there and wait. That certainly made me nervous.
"I had a crush on Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders. I'd interviewed him over the phone for Mojo Magazine. I emailed him to let him know I'd be at the show. It was amazing, and afterwards I went backstage and before I could say anything, he said, without even knowing what I looked like, 'You're Dawn.' And he looked unbelievably gorgeous for a guy his age (he was in his late 50s). He picked me up and swooped me around. I was swept off my feet. I just couldn't get over him. It was a 1966 Tiger Beat experience. My pulse was running very quickly."
I call Dawn's older sister Jennifer (photo with mom in the 5/24/03 entry) February 1, 2004, as she prepares a sermon for Shabbos morning at her Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. She should become a rabbi in June 2005.
Luke: "How did you choose to become a rabbi?"
Jennifer: "I'm not planning tonight for a long interview because I'm preparing a sermon (on miracles) that I need to have ready for my teacher tomorrow. I could answer you briefly.
"Real quickly, it's been a circuitous path. I started out as International Affairs/Poli Sci [major in 1984]. I was pre-law. I was very secular. Then my mother converted out of Judaism [into Roman Catholicism]. She found a warm, inviting Catholic church. I was dating a Catholic guy at the time. He said, 'Your mother's Catholic. Why couldn't you be?' I said, 'Wait a minute. I'm Jewish.' He said, "What does that mean? You never go to synagogue.' I started wondering. My father went on Sabbatical to Israel. He was able to take me. He was not able to take Dawn. She was still in high school.
"I had this experience [in Jerusalem in 1986], overlooking the old city. I didn't even know what the Western Wall was. I saw this olive tree. I had this idea that I was supposed to go back to school to work to protect the environment.
"A lot of things happened in 1986. My mother converted out. My grandfather died. They needed someone to stay in the home of my grandparents to watch that house. As their oldest grandchild, I was always close with my maternal grandparents (who were traditional in their Jewish observance). If we visited on the Sabbath, my grandmother served us cold salads because she would not cook on the Sabbath.
"My paternal grandparents were traditional and ethnic in their home too.
"My Catholic boyfriend did not understand why I was going to Israel. I came back and I knew I couldn't marry him. I became an environmental writer for the New Jersey governor's office. That brought me to California to get a Masters Degree in Environmental Economics and I worked for the Department of Agriculture. I looked into Jewish programs. I had this conception of cultural Judaism -- learning modern Hebrew and learning about Israel.
"The more I worked in agriculture, the more I had these memories of Israel, of bringing back the land, keep the corners of the field for the poor.
"I did not begin studying Torah in earnest until I moved to San Francisco in 1995. It has a much larger Jewish community than Davis. I read the book Jewish Renewal by Michael Lerner. I learned of Torah scholars as the original revolutionaries. I learned you could be a rebel by studying Torah. This appealed to me. I began by attending a Jewish women's conference. The speaker came out. She'd prepared all these things to say but she had to throw away her notes because Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated. I took a workshop on the Sabbath and I began attending more Jewish discussion groups and activities.
"I eventually went to a Torah study group at Reform temple in English. Then I found out about one in Hebrew in Berkeley by Avraham Davis, (The Way of the Flame). They had a nine-month mechina study program in Biblical Hebrew. I did not know about chevruta (partner) study until then. After that year, I took a year without pay from my job as an agricultural economist with the National Resources Conservation Service to further study Judaism. I felt I needed to catch up as an adult (from a relatively secular childhood).
"My mom went from Catholicism to Messianic Judaism. For a while I was getting these phone calls from these random people trying to convert me. I had to set boundaries with my mom. I was happy she had found a way to God."
Luke: "Did Dawn give your name out?"
Jennifer: "No. Dawn was not Christian at this point. Dawn went through a dark stage. Dawn and my mom kept from me that she was struggling with this depression. I stayed with Dawn for four days at a dire time for her. I thought I'd lose her. Her going through enabled me to face some of my own feelings of sadness.
"I went to a Jewish Renewal retreat (Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi) in Colorado. Then I ended up in Israel with a modern Orthodox program called Isralight (Rabbi David Aaron). My biggest fear in teaching in the Jewish community was that I had trouble with formal prayer. I was with these other women at the Wall. I was trying to get through this traditional prayer service. I felt like everybody else knew how to pray except for me. I heard this sobbing. This woman next to me was clutching the Wall and praying in Spanish or Ladino and crying. I felt like God was there.
"A couple of years later, I decided on rabbinical school."
Luke: "Dawn found Jesus in 1999."
Jennifer: "Dawn didn't tell me about her converting until three weeks before I was to leave for Israel [to begin rabbinical school in 2000]. I thought she was coming out to California to help me pack [after 13 years in the state].
"I couldn't believe it. I felt like a stone was thrown in my heart. I didn't know what to do. I thought maybe I needed to cancel going to Israel. I felt guilty. Maybe if I had lived in New York, this wouldn't have happened. I knew that Dawn had relied heavily on my mother and my stepfather. They had provided her with emotional and practical support. I knew my stepfather was phoning Dawn every morning to help Dawn wake up and go to work. They would do some Bible study together. I knew they were into the Jesus stuff. Dawn had pooh-poohed it to me and acted as though she didn't buy into it. In the end, I guess she did.
"I made the decision to go to Israel because she convinced me that there was nothing I could say or do to change her mind.
"For a year, every time I would say Kaddish [a prayer for the dead that Jews traditionally intones when a family member converts to another religion, symbolizing that the person is dead to them], I would think of my mom and my sister. I was sad that I was going off on this path and I wouldn't be able to share it with [mother and sister] though I later learned I would be able to share some facets of my learning with them.
"Yet, I wanted to believe that God knows more than I do. Many Jews feel distant from God, search in other directions, and eventually come back.
"I know that Dawn and my mother had personal reasons for not trusting Judaism as a religion. They had not had the same experience from exposure to the tradition as I had. It's hard to be Jewish. I'd rather them to believe in God in some way than not to believe at all."
Luke: "Would you rather them be believing Christians or secular atheistic Jews?"
Jennifer laughs. "Oy ve. I would rather no one be atheistic. It is not uncommon to question. An Orthodox Jew can question -- if I believe in God, why don't I keep all the mitzvot [commandments of the Torah]?"
Luke: "Whether you believe in God or not does not come up in Orthodox life."
Jennifer: "In Judaism, what you practice is more important than a day to day litmus test of what you believe.
"My mom and her husband belong to a Conservative synagogue and they're closeted with their [Christian] theology."
Luke: "Oh my. And they consider themselves Jewish and messianic."
Jennifer: "Her husband never converted from Judaism. She has since disavowed Catholicism. What they do is in the privacy of their own home. They have their private prayers. He particularly likes to go to synagogue.
"Rabbis all over the place [have to deal with] people who come in and try to crash Torah study groups with Christian theology. But my mother and stepfather keep quiet in the synagogue about their theology. Dawn wears a crucifix. She has the website. Dawn is searching."
Luke: "Do you read her blog?"
Jennifer: "Sometimes. I do when she asks me to. She wants me to read it more than I can or do.
"In Israel, I have an aunt and uncle who are charedim. They would consider many of my practices and beliefs heretical. They were happy to share their library with me, perhaps with the hope that I would become more religously observant. My aunt took me to an all-women Torah study.
"I went through a time when I wondered if I should out my mother and her husband to their rabbi. I decided no. I tried questioning them about it. Why aren't you talking to your rabbi? They want a community to be part of and they feel they can do their thing privately. They don't want to belong to a church.
"You meet a lot of Jewboos [Jewish Buddhists] in California. The Christian Jews, however, feel persecuted."
Luke: "Because Jesus creeps us out."
Jennifer: "When the Conservative movement said it was OK to drive on Shabbat, made their own loophole, it's widely accepted (though not by Orthodoxy). Yet, no form of Judaism accepts a dualistic or triune concept of God.
"If I were a very pious Jew, I would have to cut off everything, particularly from Dawn. There's a question about my mother because she won't publicly say God's not God, where Dawn will."
[The religion of Israel brought God into the world and it has always defined God as not having human form (see verse in Deuteronomy), ergo to espouse Jesus as coequal to God is, in the Jewish view, to say God is not God.]
Luke: "Your dad's a secular scientist?"
Jennifer: "He belongs to a Reform synagogue in Washington. He's agnostic. He supports Israel. He considers himself Jewish. [Dawn's conversion] is difficult for him. He's always asking me, 'Does Dawn really believe in Jesus?' I say, 'Yes, dad, I think she does.'
"He felt guilty he did not take her to Israel [in 1986]. He took her to Israel in 2001 and was hoping..."
I share the interview with Dawn. She writes:
I ask Dawn's mom if she believes Jesus equals God. She replies: "I believe in the triune God, One God with 3 separate Persons, Father, "Son", and Holy Spirit. I put quotes around Son because, while we call Jesus the Son, because of the work He did for us on earth, He is not a little boy in the Kingdom. He is every bit the Person of God. You cannot separate the Persons of God, even though they are all definite Persons. God is One and triune at the same time, i.e., Three as One. A Scripture from Isaiah: "For unto us a child is born ...and the government shall rest upon his shoulders...and He shall be called Wonderful, Marvelous, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." When I pray to Jesus, I am praying to the Sovereign Almighty God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the One True God. Jesus said, "I and the Father are One." When I think of Jesus I think of my Father in Heaven."
Jennifer replies: "I have noticed that Dawn has become more outward directed; she has become a more giving and empathetic person than before she became a person of faith. She seems to have a higher energy level and has become a more patient person than before. She is a great sister!"
Eden in Exile