Debbie Friedman, z”l, died on Sunday. Her funeral is today at 11am in California. The Jewish world has lost an immense talent who transformed the nature of prayer in our synagogues and taught a generation how to pray.
There are a lot of things to say about Debbie, many of them have been written and I will link to them at the bottom of this post.
I got to know Debbie when she served on the faculty at the URJ Kutz Camp. There we hung out together. I have a particular memory of going to The Creamery just outside of Warwick and enjoying a delicious summer ice cream treat. Debbie had a wicked sense of humor, listened intently, and made everyone in her presence feel like her best friend.
Significantly though, I remember Debbie doing what she does best, teaching. On Friday night I was leading the camp in Birkat Hamazon. Camp recently acquired new tables constructed of plastic which made an incredibly powerful sound when over 100 teenagers were pounding upon them in rhythm. The noise was overwhelming, no one could hear the sound of the grace after meals. Debbie stood up and stopped the prayer in its tracks. She told the room, “this is a prayer! Do you know what you are saying and banging your tables to the words in praise of The Creator? Please stop!” Seamlessly I picked up where I left off in the prayer and the camp culture was forever changed. (And yes there are other versions of the story and individuals who did not see this as a positive, teaching moment).
Of course I attended her concerts, too. I remember in high school she returned to the synagogue of her youth which we share, Mount Zion Hebrew Congregation and took the bima where she first sang her Sh’ma and Ve’ahavta. I knew most of the words to her songs because they are the songs of my Jewish experience.
When I learned of her death I was talking to my sister and we reviewed many of her songs. I reminded THE DIVA that she wrote “The Alef Bet Song,” yes, it is Debbie’s tune that taught thousands of children the letters to the Hebrew Alphabet.
MY MOM’s favorite was “L’chi Lach.”
I am always moved by “Those who sow,” using the words from the Psalm 126:5 the words are “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” I like the verse so much when I was gifted a tallit for my ordination, I put this verse on the atarah. For the past several days Debbie’s tune has been running through my head constantly.
I wouldn’t want it any other way
Debbie, you shall always be a blessing. T’hi zichra baruch.
Have a tribute to write to Debbie of your own? Go here.
NPR did a story.
Danny Maseng shared his memory.
Rabbi Denise Eger did.
Rabbi Paul Kipnes did.
BZ had thoughtful remembrances, too.