Debbie Friedman's funeral will be live streamed from Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana, CA on Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 at 11am (PST) at this page. Friedman died Sunday after being hospitalized in Orange County for several days with pneumonia. She was 59.
Debbie was more than a singer, songwriter and performer; she was a teacher.
I first met Debbie at the third Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education at UC Irvine in August, 1977. Many of the 700 people there had never heard of her; I knew that she was a song leader working in Texas. Stuart Kelman, Joel Grishaver and I asked her to close the conference. What she did with the audience of educators that evening was absolutely magical. She told us she was proud to be a Jewish teacher. She was funny, with a twinkle in her eye. She sang us a little song she had written for her religious school kids - "Aleph, Bet, Veit." Then, "Not by Might, Not by Power." Then, "Miriam's Song." And on and on. She insisted "this isn't a performance, let's sing together." And sing we did. She taught us the words; she repeated the melody until we had it. She got us on our feet, arms around each other. We were uplifted and inspired.
I have known Debbie for 35 years, since we were on staff together at Camp Swig.
I read on Twitter that Debbie Friedman had died. The Jewish world has lost one of the leading lights in Jewish music. I am heartbroken. Debbie opened up my heart and soul to holiness and the Holy One. And now she is gone.
Yesterday morning, at 5:49 a.m., my friend and teacher Debbie Friedman left the world. I’m not sure what is an appropriate time to leave, but I’m quite certain she left too early.
I’ve always considered Debbie to be a genius – even when colleagues were putting down her music as “camp” music or “just for kids.”
The following audio clip is a short statement recorded by Debbie Friedman for the Milken Archive in 1993.
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.
For years, I would end my workshops on grief and healing with Debbie’s rendition of the Kaddish, one of her early and less well-known melodies.
My first encounter with Debbie was in 1986 at the Simchat Chockmah ritual for becoming an elder she helped create and lead for the feminist Biblical scholar, her friend, Savina Teubal. Two moments in the ritual took my breath away. The first was in the middle of the ceremony, when Savina put on a kittel, the traditional burial shroud. Without words, that robing communicated the powerful truth that everything changes, and that although this new stage of Savina’s life would someday end with her death, she could continue to be a blessing.
I am a Debbie Friedman Jew. There is no one who has influenced me more in my Judaism than Debbie.
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.
Today Debbie Friedman died and I am deeply touched by this. Beyond a feeling of empathy of all that she went through in her life and the loss of her great talent, it makes me think of her impact on my own religious experience.