Posts Tagged ‘music’

Tribute to Debbie Friedman

Thursday, January 13th, 2011
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.
 It was later that night when I witnessed the generosity of spirit of this remarkable woman. After the concert, she invited everyone to join her in a kumsitz. We sang for hours. Some people brought guitars. Debbie encouraged them to take the lead, to share their music. One of them was a young man from Los Angeles – Craig Taubman. They had never met. As Craig sang "Yad b’Yad," Debbie sat back and smiled a smile of recognition, a smile of welcome, a smile of mentorship.
 Debbie loved teaching and she loved people. She had the gift of creating an instant bond with her "students." Once her music became so universally recognized, her appearances became more like folk rock concerts, everyone singing along on every song. Except one. When Debbie began singing her "Mi Shebeirach" and the crowd began to sing, Debbie would gently hush them. "Don’t sing," she would whisper. "This is for you." What a gift she gave us in that moment.
 There is no doubt that Debbie pioneered what has been called by Rabbi Les Bronstein "a new American nusach." Her melodies transformed worship in hundreds of synagogues across the denominations and touched the souls of countless people, leading many to experience the spiritual goose bumps that come from raising one’s voice in prayer.
 Yes, Debbie taught us to sing. But, most of all, Debbie called on God "to help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing." May her memory and her music always be a blessing, and let us say, "Amen."
Dr. Ron Wolfson
Co-President, Synagogue 3000


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