January 10, 2011
Remembering Debbie Friedman: Evan Kent
Debbie’s music provided the soundtrack for much of my adolescence—my summers at camp and my years as a member of our synagogue’s youth group. When I had the privilege of working with her for a week at the URJ Kallah in Santa Cruz, I truly gained insight into her genius and her creative process. I also realized that Debbie was one of the most spontaneous people with whom I have ever worked. Although song sessions and tefillot had been planned well in advance, what the congregation witnessed was never what we had discussed. She felt the mood of the congregation and on the spot would suggest we sing a different melody or prayer—and she was always right—she had this uncanny sense of being able to gauge the “kahal” and to adapt to the moment.
On Shabbat morning, she was supposed to end the Amidah with her settting of “Reb Nachman’s Prayer.” But as we began playing the song’s opening chords on guitar, she turned to me and said, “No, you sing it…they need to hear it from you…” I sang the first two verses, and then she joined me on the last stanza. It was a moment of great generosity. It was a chance for her to tell the congregation: these are the songs I have written, but you must make them your own.
And that’s essentially what we have done. We have taken her songs and made them a part of our hearts and implanted them forever in our souls.