Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory

A quick post with very sad news — American Jewish songwriter Debbie Friedman died on Sunday from pneumonia.

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 singing Mi Shebeirach with congregation in background (audio only)

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.”


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10 Responses to “Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory”

  1. karen tanner Says:

    I was shocked to read this. Debbie has kept us company on long car trips with her tapes and her songs have touched my heart and soul. My children grew up singing her songs. May her name be for a blessing….

  2. Wendy Ng Says:

    I haven’t gotten to read your blog for awhile, but I listened to the music of Debbie Friedman and want you to know that it speaks worlds. Such a beautiful sound and a sad loss.

  3. Janice Dean Says:

    I was glad to hear Debbie Friedman’s work played on All Things Considered this afternoon, as I enter the final stretch of my workday. Such a blessing.

  4. Adam Graubart Says:

    Thank for the very nice obituary to Friedman. Although Friedman was predominately a Reform singer, she touched Conservative and Orthodox Jewish music too. That takes a lot of talent and power. Debbie Friedman will truly be missed.

    I always liked her version of Oseh Shalom:

  5. Ilana DeBare Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Adam! For those of you who don’t know him, Adam writes a really thoughtful Jewish blog at Check out his personal perspective on Debbie Friedman there in a recent post. He is, by the way, 14 years old and aspires to be a rabbi.

  6. Madeleine Adkins Says:

    Thanks for this, Ilana. (And thanks, too, to Adam for the Oseh Shalom link–I didn’t remember that that was Debbie Friedman’s as well.)
    Her passing is so sad. And yet she left us all so much music with such incredible power in it. And for the record, some of her songs are used in Renewal congregations as well. Judaism truly has benefited from her groundbreaking and inspirational work. I feel lucky that I did get to see her once about 15 years ago. May her memory be for a blessing.

  7. Adirah Says:

    Subject: Introducing

    Dear Friends,

    My name is Adirah Liebschutz. I am writing to you to share my site, Similar to Debbie Friedman (may her memory be blessed), I am inspired to compose praise and worship songs based on Scripture and Jewish liturgy. I have been profoundly moved by stories passed from survivors of the Shoah and Kristallnacht and have created a musical tribute from Tehillim (Psalms). Two of the songs on my first CD were composed by victims of the holocaust. They were preserved in the memory of my mother-in-law, who was liberated from Bergen-Belsen, and passed on to me. I think they deserve to be shared with others as a legacy for future generations.

    I noticed your site has information about Jewish music, and thought that access to my stories and songs would also be valuable resources for your readers. I hope you can take a moment to visit my site and let me know what you think. If you like what you see I hope you will consider adding to your list of resources. If not, I completely respect your decision and wish you the best.

    Either way, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at I am more than happy to answer any that you may have.

    Thank you for your time!


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