Debbie was an amazingly gifted singer and songwriter. Most knew her through her incredible Jewish music. I had the privilege of knowing her not only through singing and her music, but as my teacher. When I was 12 years old, I was already teaching religious school music at Temple Israel in Memphis, Tenn. The Sisterhood of the Temple invested in my skill and talent and sent me that June to SoFTY camp at Jacobs Camp. SoFTY was the old NFTY name of the Southern Region of the North American Federation of Temple Youth, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement. I wasn’t in SoFTY yet, I was still in middle school not high school. Debbie was songleading at SoFTY camp. It was 1972. I was sent there specifically to learn from her how to songlead! And I did. She taught me technique and style and songleading tips. In private classes! And there began a special friendship that would last these many years. It was that first exposure to her and her music that ultimately helped propel me toward the rabbinate.
Through the years we checked in with each other. Especially when she lived in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, we spent lots of time together.
And just last May, to celebrate Congregation Kol Ami’s 18th anniversary, Debbie sang for us and with us at the House of Blues! What a night!
I saw Debbie just a couple of weeks ago at Hebrew Union College before Winter Break began. We greeted one another with a warm embrace and a little catching up together. She was soon off to the Limmud conference, and I was soon off to PARR, the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis conference where there would be so many of her friends.
My heart goes out to her mom and whole family. May her memory live on for a blessing as her music lives in our hearts and mouths!
She helped us sing like angels. Now she is one of them. Baruch Dayan Haemet.
Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s Reform Synagogue and President of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.