January 26, 2011
Saying Farewell to Debbie Friedman
Like many Jews, the foundation of my own Jewish experience stems from my time at Jewish summer camp. The weeks I spent surrounded by my Jewish peers living Judaism at Camp Swig and Camp Newman were among the best weeks of my childhood, and they still inform my ideas about myself as a person, a friend, and a Jew. So much of way Jewish summer camp, for me, such a magical place was the enthusiasm for Judaism, which was often conveyed through music.
It was with sadness I read a few weeks ago that Debbie Friedman, the musician who brought Judaism to life for so many, had died. I was fortunate enough to have seen Debbie Friedman perform while I was teaching at a reform congregation in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her spirit and strength were truly inspiring.
I was surprised to see a mention of Debbie being a lesbian in the New York Times coverage of her death. To that end, I wanted to share something I received today from Keshet about Debbie, her life, and her death.
Keshet joins the many thousands all over the world who mourn the loss of Debbie Friedman, zichrona l’bracha. There are no words to capture the transformative impact she had on contemporary Jewish life. Her open, accessible, and expansive approach to liturgy and Jewish music invited so many of us to connect with prayer and a sense of the divine. Debbie challenged us to be our holiest selves. She revolutionized the way we relate to ritual melody and ritual healing, and offered inclusive expression for everyone, LGBT and straight alike. As The New York Times obituary shared, her lyrics about the empowerment of disenfranchised groups stemmed from “the quiet pride she took in her life as a gay woman.” In 2008, Debbie Friedman performed at the Jewish Theological Seminary to mark the one-year anniversary celebration of gay and lesbian rabbinic ordination. Over the past few weeks, there has been much conversation in the Jewish media and blogosphere about Debbie’s sexual orientation and the extent to which she was “out.” Though there is a lot to discuss about LGBT experience in relation to Jewish communal leadership, now is the time to honor the blessing of Debbie’s life and to give her loved ones the time and space for mourning.