I didn’t know Debbie Friedman… I’d met her, and seen her perform a number of times. But I didn’t know her, not like those of my friends who’d spent many a day creating music with her, or learning from her, or sharing the bimah with her. But all week I haven’t been able to get her off my mind – the tremendous gift that her life has been and the overwhelming loss of her passing. I woke this morning with the latter pressing on my mind and heart, and I couldn’t understand why. Then as the day progressed it became clear – I did know Debbie. I knew her well. I’ve sung her songs and swayed to her music, Shabbat after Shabbat. I’ve tuned into prayer with the melodies that originated on her guitar and from her heart, so much so, that those songs have become part of the very fabric of who I am as a Jew. Yes, though I hadn’t spent any time with Debbie, through her music, she had been my teacher and my friend, as she was to so many millions of our people.
This week was one of great loss and pain to those who were close to her. And yet with her life she left us with so much. She had transformed our worship, our community, our lives. She was unrelenting in getting us to reclaim our individual capacity to connect with the divine, within and around us. And she modeled for us a soul commitment that we can only dream of attaining in our own lives. Watching Debbie perform was to see someone who was surrendered to her soul. If we can take anything from her remarkable life it may be to learn to give ourselves over completely to our own souls, to our own journeys, no matter how challenging or painful it may be, for in that commitment we complete God’s creation of us.
Words from Debbie’s You Turn My Mourning into Dancing
“You turn my mourning into dancing
So that my soul might sing to You
So that my soul sing to You
And it not be still.”