Thursday, January 13, 2011
Honoring the Life of Debbie Friedman z"l
I love Jewish music. The sounds of Debbie Friedman, Beth Schafer, Josh Nelson, Kol B’seder and Dan Nichols fill my iTunes. Upon learning of the death of Debbie Friedman, I smile through the tears, remembering the power of her words, and realizing the power that an individual has to positively affect the world.
Jewish music has been a part of my life during every transition and challenging moments I have struggled with. I began Religious School in our Temple’s “Bagels and Blox” program as a preschooler learning Debbie Friedman’s Aleph Bet Song, beginning my journey of Jewish learning. As a fifth grader, I learned what it was like to be comforted by the words of Debbie’s Mi Shebeirach as my Mom battled cancer. As a freshman in high school, I discovered the world of NFTY, and began to attempt to learn every Jewish song ever written. I just couldn’t get enough. I went to youth group concerts, kallot at song sessions, and had the incredible experience of being a part of two Union for Reform Judaism Biennials- singing and connecting with thousands of other like-minded Jews. During the summer of my sophomore year I attended the URJ Kutz Camp, where I was immersed in Reform Jewish living. As a junior in high school I became confirmed, singing Debbie’s “And the Youth Shall See Visions.” During my senior year of high school I sang Lechi Lach and Tefilat Haderech as I completed the Miller High School honors program at HUC-JIR in New York.
While I did begin to drift away from the Reform Movement during college, I worked for five summers at Kutz. Kutz gave me a Jewish identity, and I wanted to give back to the place that gave me so much. During one particular summer, the power of her music became clear to me. I was the assistant director for Kutz’s Mitzvah Corps program for teens on the autistic spectrum. I worked closely with a teen who didn’t have the ability to verbally communicate. He often made sounds with his throat, and pointed at things that he wanted others to notice. I struggled to understand him and was unsure of how to connect. During an evening program one night we sat in a circle to begin to say good night. We sang some songs, and decided to include Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach prayer. As our song leader strummed a few chords, I was shocked to hear my non-verbal camper in a quiet, but clear voice sing the words. He couldn’t tell me when he was hurting, or when he wanted a hug, but he could sing those words of healing.
Since hearing of Debbie’s death, I’ve been trying to figure out how to best honor her memory. I keep singing. Tonight, in the House that I live at the Jewish boarding school that I work for, songs of Debbie Friedman filled the air during our evening program. I led my girls in my favorite camp songs, shared my few stories I have from working with her at camp, and watched as my Houseparent’s 9 year old daughter ended the night by leading us all in Lechi Lach. Debbie Friedman’s memory lives on through the music that continues to touch the heart and stir the soul of generations to come. Zichrona Livracha, may her memory be for a blessing.