debbie

My work is my joy. This is what drives me and keeps me alive and knowing that I must never give in when the doctors say this is as good as it will be – when friends say, this is the best I can do. I will surround myself with people who have the same passion for life, the same passion for passion. This is how we will survive as human beings and this is how we, as women, will become a resonant song whose melody is so strong and so powerful that all of the negative voices in our world will be muffled to an inaudible whisper because all will want to hear this song – because each of us is a part of it.

Debbie was born in Utica, New York, in 1951. She moved with her family to St. Paul, Minnesota, when she was 6 years old. After high school, she lived in Israel for six months. She lived in various locales during her life, including Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Manhattan. In the spring of 2010, she moved to Laguna Woods, California, to be geographically closer to her family.

Debbie had a passion for all genres of Jewish music, instrumental or vocal, that gave “voice” to the wonders of Jewish heritage and living. She enjoyed classical music including opera, symphonic and chamber music. She never laughed louder than when listening to Bette Midler’s humorous music and banter.

Debbie’s early musical influences included Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and others in that genre. As did her musical forbearers, Debbie raised her voice, challenging those in positions of power and popularity; she challenged the status quo. But, Debbie’s influence and inspiration was indelibly etched on her heart long before those musicians had their impact. Her mother and maternal grandparents were Debbie’s first and real inspirations. From them flowed her passion for love, justice, integrity, humor – living Jewishly.

Her music touches people in myriad ways. It compels our willing souls to pray in a different way to see ourselves and others through different eyes, understand ways to give that were previously unknown, find deeper parts of ourselves that were hidden. Her music makes Judaism accessible to all those who are open. For her generation, and those since, the teachings of Judaism were waiting for someone to unfold them – to unwrap them. Debbie gave us that gift.

During Debbie’s formative years, as she sat in synagogue services, she felt that something was missing both for her and for those she observed. She identified with other young people whose Judaism had no language that spoke to them – or for them.

Her music touches people in myriad ways. It compels our willing souls to pray in a different way to see ourselves and others through different eyes, understand ways to give that were previously unknown, find deeper parts of ourselves that were hidden. Her music makes Judaism accessible to all those who are open. For her generation, and those since, the teachings of Judaism were waiting for someone to unfold them – to unwrap them. Debbie gave us that gift.

During Debbie's formative years, as she sat in synagogue services, she felt that something was missing both for her and for those she observed. She identified with other young people whose Judaism had no language that spoke to them – or for them.

In 1970, Debbie wrote V'ahavta, a paragraph of the Sh'ma. A month later, she taught it to those attending a regional youth convention. In Jewish Sages of Today, you will find the following discussion:

I was stunned when they suddenly put their arms around each other and there were tears rolling down their faces. They were reclaiming this prayer, and it was ours in a musical language they were able to understand... We were reclaiming something that we hadn't touched, that we had no access to until now.

In 1970, Debbie wrote V’ahavta, a paragraph of the Sh’ma. A month later, she taught it to those attending a regional youth convention. In Jewish Sages of Today, you will find the following discussion:

I was stunned when they suddenly put their arms around each other and there were tears rolling down their faces. They were reclaiming this prayer, and it was ours in a musical language they were able to understand... We were reclaiming something that we hadn’t touched, that we had no access to until now.

It wasn’t long after that she had a realization that set the course for her future career, while she was attending a service at her family’s synagogue.

Her songs, and the prayers for which she found melodies, continue to reach countless people of all expressions of Judaism and some who follow the Christian faith. We are a community – but a community is made up of individuals. And Debbie’s music speaks to the community through its individuals. She believed we are healed one person at a time, one soul at a time.

Debbie used music to express her Judaism. She translated and transformed prayers, Torah, Talmud, and other scholarly texts, ancient and contemporary. She brought words of heretofore lesser-known liturgical pieces, Torah portions, psalms, the prophets, and philosophers, into our every-day vernacular. Imagine ordinary people like us – young and old, quoting the prophets, the Talmud, the Koran, and so on. Debbie’s music weaves the message of one’s obligation to the community and its individuals – finding the parallel between the texts and the world as she experienced it.

 

Debbie began writing in the early 1970’s. She wrote many of her early songs while she was a songleader for both the Northern Federation of Temple Youth (NoFTY), Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) in Wisconsin, and other youth organizations and camps around the country.

Debbie used both English and Hebrew lyrics, and wrote for all ages. Some of her better-known songs include the Mi Shebeirach, Miriam's Song, Birchot Havdalah, Not By Might, I Am a Latke, 613 Commandments, Sing Unto God, Sh'ma and V’ahavta (Thou Shalt Love),  L’chi Lach, T’filat HaDerech, The Angel’s Blessing, Kaddish D’rabanan, Devorah’s Song, to name only a few of her catalogue, containing hundreds of compositions.

debbie biennal

Her compositions are written for life-cycle events, holidays, observances marking the Jewish calendar, world events, and much more. For example, One People was written in response to 9/11. In it, Debbie speaks to the nations and peoples of the world about our similarities – that we are One People. In Save a Life, she uses Talmudic and Koranic text to eulogize Yitzchak Rabin. In Not By Might, she quotes the words of the prophet Zechariah. Even I Am a Latke and Happy Thanksgiving, though humorous, are infused with the message that we must not forget the needs of the poor, the sick, the lonely, and the hungry among us. Our responsibility to attend to the needs of our planet is reflected in songs like Plant a Tree for Tu B’shvat. Compositions expressing the joy of holidays of the Jewish calendar can be heard in The Dreidel Song, and Light These Lights. Debbie’s album, Shanah Tovah presents songs through the Jewish calendric year, from Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Purim, Pesach, Simchat Torah, and more. The album Miracles and Wonders, contains two musicals celebrating Purim and Chanukah. They have been performed for over 20 years in countless religious and day schools.

Shirim Al Galgalim: Songs on Wheels is another children’s album celebrating holidays and blessings. The Journey Continues: Ma’yan Passover Haggadah in Song, is a guide, in music, for the Passover seder. This album contains traditional Passover songs, as well as new compositions. Some of the compositions were co-created by gifted lyricists.

Debbie's amazing sense of humor is reflected in the lyrics of numerous songs. Many of the songs teach the Hebrew language (The Alef Bet or Bakitah). Jewish values are taught in Im Ein Ani Li or 613 Commandments. Debbie draws from her childlike spirit in songs like The Angels Blessing and Lullaby. Debbie once said, "Nothing could give me greater pleasure than knowing some of these songs could put a child to sleep and be calm."

Debbie's music is so fully integrated into synagogue liturgy, that in many congregations it is considered "traditional." Churches, schools, camps, and community centers also find Debbie's extensive variety of songs to be valuable additions for their teaching and use in worship. Her melodies and lyrics are licensed for hundreds of usages, in recordings, videos, songbooks, prayerbooks, haggadot, textbooks, teaching manuals, children's books, healing publications, ritual books, films and television, and self-help books. Her work appears in settings from the Barney In Concert video (The Alef Bet Song) to an episode of Strong Medicine on the Lifetime channel (Mi Shebeirach). Tree of Life, a division of Hallmark greeting cards, designed and marketed a series of 12 holiday cards using Debbie's lyrics.

She has performed in hundreds of cities around the globe and has appeared before national conventions and conferences for every major Jewish organization, including the General Assembly of Jewish Federations; Hadassah; Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Union for Reform Judaism); American Conference of Cantors; Rabbinical Assembly; Cantors Assembly; Wexner Heritage Foundation; Whizin Institute; National Association of Temple Educators; National Association of Temple Administrators; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Women of Reform Judaism; World Union for Progressive Judaism; World Jewish Congress; American Jewish Congress; American Jewish Committee; National Federation of Temple Youth; and United Synagogue Youth. More adherents of Modern Orthodox tenets are listening to Debbie's music. Her work has also been sung at countless interfaith concerts. In 1997, the choir of a 4,000-member Baptist church in Houston adapted her L'chi Lach.

In the 1980's, Debbie served as the cantorial soloist for three years at the New Reform Congregation in Los Angeles, California. 
At OSRUI, she served as a music educator. She directed the music component of its intensive Hebrew Chalutzim program and created Hava Nashira, the popular annual songleading and music workshop.

She served on the faculty of the Jewish Perspectives on Care at the End of Life Symposium at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, the Summer Institute for Jewish Educators, co-sponsored by the University of Judaism and the Whizin Institute in Los Angeles, the Kalsman Institute of Hebrew Union College, the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, the Elat Chayyim Jewish Spiritual Retreat Center in the Catskill Mountains of New York, the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Brandeis, California, the Union for Reform Judaism summer Kallah programs held at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, New Hampshire. Debbie once followed an address by President Bill Clinton for the United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Convention.

For many years, Debbie taught workshops and directed 300-person chorales at Coalition For The Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE) annual conferences. The chorales performed in concert, spiritually inspiring the several-thousand delegates who were in attendance.

At many of the conferences at which Debbie appeared, she traditionally co-led gatherings of all-night spontaneous singing sessions (kumzitzim). Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, said the following of the experiences. debbie from back

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