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Jewish Journal

Debbie Friedman: She Taught Jews to Sing Again

by Susan Freudenheim

January 9, 2011 | 2:53 pm

Years ago, as I was making my way back into Judaism after a lapse, I would go to synagogue on Shabbat and find myself waiting especially for certain moments in the services. I later came to know that those special moments all were linked to haunting tunes written by Debbie Friedman. Her version of the Mi Shebearach prayer, her “Shalom Rav” and once yearly especially: “L’chi La,”—“And you Shall be a Blessing.”

Debbie Friedmen lives on in our ears and in our minds, and she will always be heard through our voices, which rise for her especially today. I especially wanted to share the statement below, because I was one of those who learned from her to sing again.

A just released statement on Debbie Friedman from the Union of Reform Judaism:
The Union for Reform Judaism mourns passing of our teacher Debbie Friedman, z"l.

Debbie influenced and enriched contemporary Jewish music, and Jewish life, in a profound way. Her music crossed generational and denominational lines and carved a powerful legacy of authentic Jewish spirituality into our daily lives.

Responding to news of her death, URJ President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie said, “Debbie Friedman was an extraordinary treasure of our Movement, and one of its most influential voices. Twenty-five years ago, North American Jews had forgotten how to sing. Debbie reminded us how to sing, she taught us how to sing. She gave us the vehicles that enabled us to sing. What happens in the synagogues of Reform Judaism today—the voices of song—are in large measure due to the insight, brilliance and influence of Debbie Friedman.” “By creating a whole new genre of Jewish music, Debbie was able to reintroduce authentic Jewish spirituality,” said Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism and a long-time friend and fellow songwriter. “She wrote melodies that spoke to us, spoke to our intellect, spoke to our emotions.”

“Debbie’s influence reached every corner of our Movement, and of the American Jewish community,” noted Freelander. “Her connection to, and with, Jewish camps was particularly powerful. Today’s rabbis, cantors and Jewish leaders were inspired by Debbie, so often quite personally. Although she faced great health challenges, Debbie was a constant presence in the lives of our camps, conferences, and congregations.”

In 2007, the Union for Reform Judaism honored Friedman with the first Alexander M. Schindler Award for Distinguished Leadership presented at an emotional tribute concert in at the URJ Biennial in San Diego.

While Debbie’s passing will be mourned by millions of followers, her music will fill the hearts of Jews for generations to come. May Debbie’s memory be for a blessing and may her family and friends be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Funeral services, open to the public, will be held Tuesday, Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. at Temple Beth Sholom, 2625 N. Tustin Ave. Santa Ana, CA 92705. Phone: 714-628-4600

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