The life & Legacy of
Debbie is the inheritor of a great legacy. I’ve sung with her and watched her perform many times, sometimes in the wee hours at spontaneous gatherings during Jewish education conferences. Here is the music of jubilation and confirmation. It is a call to community that rages against darkness and spreads light.
In 1996, in the Palm Beach Jewish Times article “Queen of Souls,” URJ Senior Vice President Rabbi Dan Freelander said:
[T]he kids of the UAHC [URJ] camps of the 60’s became the rabbis of the 1970’s, and the rest of the kids are now board members of congregations all over the country. They walk around with Debbie Friedman’s music embedded in their subconscious.
In the same article, Dr. Marc Epstein, Professor of Jewish Studies at Vassar College said:
[Debbie is] really the first woman contributor of note to popular jewish musical liturgy. She broke the barrier of the staid, hymnic renditions of Chanukah music, without being avant-garde. It’s neither the grave, solemn renditions of the 19th century, nor the childish melodies of the earlier portion of the 20th century.
Although Debbie’s music is primarily heard in Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal liturgy, Blu Greenberg, the orthodox feminist leader, was quoted in the Jewish Week, on January 14, 2011, as saying,
[Debbie] had a large impact [in] Modern Orthodox shuls, women’s tefillah [prayer], and the Orthodox feminist circles... She was a religious bard and angel of the entire community.
Her first concert at the renowned Carnegie Hall, in 1996, celebrated the 25th anniversary of her distinguished musical career. The following year she appeared in her second solo concert at Carnegie Hall. She performed at the prestigious Town Hall, in New York City, and numerous other concert venues all over the world, as well as in Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Renewal synagogues throughout the world. Debbie was part of a benefit for the UJA-Federation of New York concert to respond to the World Trade Center tragedy and the crisis in Israel. In 2004, a documentary of Debbie’s life, A Journey of Spirit, was produced.
Debbie’s appointment to the faculty of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) School of Sacred Music in New York and the HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, in 2007, fulfilled a lifelong dream to teach in a formal setting – allowing her another avenue to help shape the future of the Jewish people. Debbie taught both rabbinic and cantorial students. What follows is an excerpt from an article written by Susan Fishkoff entitled, “70’s Rebel Takes Job at Cantorial School”:
Friedman’s appointment [to the HUC-JIR’s School of Sacred Music in New York] can be seen as part of a general shift in American worship away from grand operatic performances by cantor and choir and toward greater congregational participation.
"I’ve been a symbol," Friedman said, with some frustration. "Rather than seeing me as a whole person, I’ve been perceived as a renegade, someone outside the system..."
That, Friedman said, is nonsense. "The issue is whether we’re reaching people and helping them pray. Whatever we can do to facilitate their worship experience and spiritual self-exploration, we’re obligated to do."
In December of 2011, the School of Sacred Music was renamed The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music.
In 2010, she was named to the Forward 50 after the release of her 22nd and final album, As You Go On Your Way: Shacharit – The Morning Prayers. About this album, Debbie wrote:
I have always imagined people on the subway or in their cars riding to work. I have imagined people on the freeways of California sitting at a stand-still or on the trains from the suburbs to the city, people exercising, or maybe just having those few minutes alone in the morning when they can finally gather themselves and acknowledge the moments of quiet, the moments when they can have a sense of the Divine.
The purpose of prayer is to be able to transcend the traffic and the hustle of the daily routine – to begin the day by acknowledging the magic of each day, the miracle of our lives, our bodies, our breath and our minds. Once we can begin to appreciate ourselves as living breathing miracles, we can celebrate and give thanks to The Creator of All That Was, All That Is, and All That Will Be.
In 2005, Debra Nussbaum Cohen interviewed Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, a professor at the Reform Movement’s HUC-JIR, in NY. Hoffman said:
Debbie’s music ...[provides] contemporary Jewish spirituality with music that gives worshippers their voice. ...Here is a musical genius wed to Jewish authenticity and a keen sense for what today’s men and women seek both artistically and religiously in the 21st century.
Debbie leaves behind a vast catalogue of compositions. She leaves the world better for having been here. She leaves lessons on loving and being loved – a legacy of inspiration, change, and renewal that is beyond measure.
Her work was her joy. It is what kept her alive.From the liner notes