Tuesday, February 7, 2023 -
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Debbie Friedman, 1951-2011

Mi shebeirach avoteinu Avraham, Yitzhak, ve-Yaakov . . .

He Who blessed our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob . . . may He bless and heal the sick person (name), son/daughter of (patient’s mother’s name) because (name of supplicant) will contribute charity on his/her behalf . . .

The prayer has been a standard in Orthodox synagogues for centuries. After the Torah is read on Monday, Thursday and Sabbath mornings, worshippers ask G-d’s intervention on behalf of the ill. Misheberach was not part of the Reform prayer service until Debbie Friedman’s lilting, soothing song version of the prayer was released on an album in 1989, after which it became a standard at most Reform and Reconstructionist services. The song was adopted in many Conservative synagogues, too, even though the prayer itself has long been part of Conservative liturgy.

Not only did Debbie Friedman’s interpretation of this simple act of asking G-d for healing change Shabbat services, it changed many liberal Jews’ relationship with G-d. Previously, the only petitionary prayer in the Reform liturgy was “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to Thee . . . ” Now, Jews were able to connect to G-d with the most basic of requests: heal me, or my loved one. Liberal Jews learned they could talk directly to the Creator, the Healer.

For that contribution alone, Debbie Friedman, the singer-songwriter who passed away on Sunday, has earned a place in the annals of American Jewish life. But there is more. Read locals’ reaction

Friedman’s “Mi Shebeirach” served as a springboard for healing services and even healing centers in which Jewish spiritual values are tapped into as a way of helping those who are sick or are grieving a loss.

Jews and Judaism have always valued music. Instruments and song were a central part of the Temple service in ancient Israel. The informal “prayer leader” (shali’ach tzibbur) and the formal cantor then came to occupy major positions in Jewish spiritual life. In the 20th century, many masters — such as Ben Zion Shenker and the late Shlomo Carlebach — brought a new feeling and a culturally relevant joy into the synagogue. The cantorial arts themselves were changed under the impact of these new styles. Debbie Friedman, in her way, allowed countless more Jews to learn to speak to G-d on their own behalf. Read the full obituary

This Shabbat is “the Sabbath of Song,” marking the  Israelites’ breaking into song after they safely crossed the parted Red Sea. Shabbat Shira has become popular in congregations everywhere as an opportunity to inject new songs into weekly Sabbath services. No doubt, the influence of  Debbie Friedman, in imbuing congregations and individuals with a newfound love of Jewish song, has been seminal.

Judaism says that a person lives on through the good deeds they performed in their lifetimes. Debbie Friedman will live on in her stirring melodies and lyrical prayers sung in synagogues on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, in Jewish camps, in schools, and in the hearts of those who remember her as they listen and sing along.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News


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