For those who don’t know her, Friedman created some of the most beautiful contemporary music with traditional Jewish lyrics. Drawing on the folk music movement of the 1960s, she helped Reform Judaism move beyond its formal organ-and-choir tradition to a new tone of emotional warmth and communal participation .
Her Mi Shebeirach has become a standard part of Reform services, during a part of the liturgy where we pray for healing for friends and loved ones who are ill. She in fact produced a whole album of songs focused on healing — Renewal of Spirit — which is profoundly calming and inspiring. I’ve given it to more than one close friend when they have been ill.
Our cantor sang another Friedman song, L’chi Lach, during the portion of my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah service where the rabbi blessed her, and I had been planning to use it in my Bat Mitzvah too. It’s a moving song about going forth on a spiritual journey, or a journey into life.
This is really sad and a major loss. Friedman was only in her 50s, but according to the news stories, had underlying health issues. I regret that I never got to see her perform live.
For those of you who have never heard her, here are some links to her performances:
Debbie Friedman sings L’chi Lach (audio with still photos of Friedman)
Debbie Friedman performs solo Mi Shebeirach (jerky handheld video of a live performance)
May her memory, and her music, continue to be a blessing.
Postscript — Jan. 28, 2011 — I just learned that Hebrew Union College, the rabbinical school of the Reform movement, is renaming its cantorial program in Friedman’s honor. She was teaching there in the period before her death.
The press release says:
At a memorial tribute to Debbie Friedman at Central Synagogue on January 27, 2011, Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, made the following announcement:
“A beloved member of our faculty since 2007, Debbie Friedman, z”l, inspired our students through her creativity and musical talents, helped guide their spiritual and leadership development, and provided them with innovative strategies to transform congregations into communities of learning and meaning. Our students were blessed by her devotion, and our faculty was enriched by her gifts and talents. Her words and her music will live on and shape the world of prayer in our synagogues and in the larger Jewish community for this and future generations.
“Generous friends of the College-Institute have made possible the endowment of the HUC-JIR School of Sacred Music to ensure that the mission of the SSM – to provide the finest cantorial education across a full range of liturgical and musical styles — will receive permanent support. This endowment has been made out of deep love and friendship for Debbie Friedman and to honor her singular contributions to religious worship, spiritual renewal, and the Jewish people. The School of Sacred Music will now bear her name, and will henceforth be called The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. We are profoundly grateful for this act of genuine hesed (true loving kindness) in memory of our beloved Debbie.”