Guest Author - Lauren Tuchman
Debbie Friedman, who passed away on January 9, 2011, was a prolific composer of Jewish liturgical music and undoubtedly one of the most celebrated Jewish women of the late twentieth century. Her music not only transformed the mode of worship in many liberal synagogues, it made Jewish liturgy accessible to those who did not have a strong Jewish background. One of the ways in which Debbie accomplished this was by using both Hebrew and English lyrics in her songs, thus allowing for the enjoyment and participation of all. The beautiful English translations she wrote to accompany the Hebrew text allowed her listeners to connect with Jewish tradition on a much deeper level than many had before. More significantly, Debbie's music was a vehicle through which people began to rediscover Judaism's rich spirituality which was largely absent from synagogues and other Jewish institutions. Debbie Friedman was highly influenced by the folk artists of the 1960ís and 1970ís and as a result of the musicís contemporary feel and resonance, it was not widely accepted as part of the tunes used for worship immediately but this changed within a very short period of time. Debbie Friedmanís music is now so much a part of the fabric of worship in many Reform and other liberal synagogues that it is seen as very traditional.
Although Debbie Friedmanís influence was greatest in the Reform movement, knowledge of her melodies and their use in synagogues other than those affiliated with the Reform Movement is widespread. Some of her most beloved and popular melodies are her Mi Shebaruch, which is a blessing for healing, her Havdalah melody, Líchi Lach, which is a beautiful take on G-dís commandment to Abram to leave his land and his fatherís home for a land which I will show you, Tífilat HaDerech, an adaptation of the prayer said by travelers and Miriamís Song, which celebrates Miriam, Mosesí sister and a prophetess in her own right. Her The Angel's Blessing is a beautiful explication of part of the Bedtime Shema and her settings of Oseh Shalom and Psalm 150 are also liturgical standards in many congregations. In addition to her liturgical and inspirational music, Debbie Friedman composed numerous children's songs. Countless Jewish children learned the Hebrew alphabet thanks in large measure to her Alef Bet Song and songs such as The Latke Song explain Jewish holidays to children in an easily accessible manner.
Debbie Friedman recorded a total of nineteen albums during her illustrious career which spanned nearly three decades. Her final Album, As You Go on Your Way contains much of the weekday morning (Shacharit) service.
In addition to making the texts and prayers of Judaism come alive for Jews of all backgrounds, Debbie Friedman was very interested in making the unique experiences of women and womenís spirituality an integral part of Jewish life and experience. She achieved this through her participation in many ground-breaking and innovative gatherings and rituals for women, such as leading feminist Passover Seders. She also helped to write a feminist Passover Haggadah. Additionally, Debbie Friedman shed light on the lives, accomplishments and experiences of important Jewish women through her music, including such songs as Miriamís Song and Devorahís Song, which recounted the life of Devorah, a judge and prophetess of Israel.
Debbie Friedman was also instrumental in the creation and popularization of Jewish healing services which she officiated at for communities as well as individuals in times of grave illness or other personally or spiritually trying times. Her deep-seated interest in these services may well have been on account of her own struggles.
Although Debbie Friedmanís music is best known in the Jewish community, she was also involved in interfaith issues and her music can be enjoyed by all, regardless of faith.