Debbie Friedman z”l
I am adding my voice to those who mourn the passing of this fixture of modern Jewish music. I don’t expect to offer any new insights into who she was, and I certainly don’t expect to say anything new given the outpouring of love from all corners of the world.
The best I can hope to do is to explain what her music meant to me, personally.
I am not ashamed to say that her music formed the foundation of my Jewish understanding. In some ways, her songs are still the ones I reach for when I am trying to find a connection to my Judaism.
Yes, that means that when I’m sorting words in Hebrew, you will hear me unashamedly sing her “Aleph Bet” song under my breath. My family and I try each year at Passover to reproduce her Calypso “Ma Nishtanah” around the Seder table (most years we fail miserably and have a fantastic time in the process). Despite learning other tunes and traditions, we still close out Havdalah using the niggun she wrote. When my family and I moved overseas for a year, it was her song “Lechi Lach” that my wife and I played (over, and over and over) to our children to give them (and ourselves) an emotional anchor for what we were doing.
While Debbie’s was not the only one, her music was the first and foundational source for what I can only call the soundtrack of my Jewish journey.
My one thought is to honor her legacy by recognizing the importance that music has in our spiritual journey. I posted back in December 2009 that Jewish music is more than just the Dreidel song (even a really snappy re-visioning of it like Julie Silver’s). There are so many amazing Jewish artists sharing their music today – many who were inspired by Debbie’s work, many of whom have posted their own messages of love and memory and respect on this site.
Go listen to some of those artists. Find those who inspire you, whose music uplifts you. Let their music become part of the song in your soul when you pray, let their lyrics become part of your vocabulary as you share ideas and let their themes inform your ideals and values as you work in the world.
Give their music a chance to become part of the soundtrack on your own spiritual journey.