By Cantor Emma Lutz
Composer and musician Debbie Friedman brought a new voice to the Reform movement starting in the 1970’s, lighting up Jewish spaces with her creative and powerful musical interpretations of our ancient texts. Debbie was funny, intense, cared deeply about Hebrew, and devoted her life to engaging American Jews in song. Indeed, her influence on the Reform musical canon of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century was so great that the cantorial school at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York (my alma mater) was re-named the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music after her passing in January 2011.
You might know Friedman’s music from her comforting Mi Shebeirach which we sing together just about every week. Or, while attending camp or on a trip to Israel, you learned her haunting and beautiful setting to the prayers of Havdalah sung at the end of Shabbat. Perhaps you nightly chant the soothing sounds of her Bedtime Sh’ma. Whichever is your favorite (and if you don’t have one, I recommend a listen to one of her twenty-plus albums online), Friedman’s musical settings enhance the hope and meaning we glean from our prayer experiences together. We in turn honor her memory by teaching them to the next generations.
In her song Holy Place, Friedman reminds us of the message of this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Terumah: God is always inviting us to bring our best selves to our community in order to create a sacred space for God to dwell among us. When we lift our voices together in services, when we bring a meal to a sick friend, when we give generously, and whenever we share the best pieces of ourselves with our community; we are answering God’s call. May we be inspired by the God-filled spaces Debbie Friedman created by bringing her passion and music to us all. Zichronah livracha, may her memory be for a blessing.
These are the gifts that we bring, that we may build a holy place.
This is the spirit that we bring, that we may build a holy place.
We will bring all the goodness that comes from our hearts.
And the spirit of God will dwell within.
-Lyrics by Debbie Friedman based on Exodus 25:8.