The Synagogue 3000 family joins the community in mourning the death of our friend and teacher Debbie Friedman.
When we began Synagogue 2000 in 1995, we invited Debbie to become one of the original Synagogue 2000 Fellows, teaching at our conferences and sharing her inimitable spirit with our synagogue transformation teams. As the pioneer of what Rabbi Les Bronstein has called “a new American nusach,” we were thrilled to welcome Debbie as one of our colleagues.
Debbie loved teaching…and learning. At our very first conference in Ojai, California, Debbie overhead B’nai Jeshurun’s Rabbi Roly Matalon and Hazzan Ari Priven teaching our Director of Music and Liturgical Arts Merri Arian, a new melody to Psalm 150 they had heard from Amichai Lau-Lavie. They had introduced the melody to their congregation just a week earlier. In turn, Merri taught the melody to the entire conference at our daily song session. When Roly and Ari modeled their Kabbalat Shabbat service later that week, they ended the worship with “Hallelu”…and the chapel erupted with spirit, song and dance.
If anyone recognized a great melody, it was Debbie. She began to include “Hallelu” in her repertoire…and the rest is history.
In 2001, our Los Angeles city-wide celebration of synagogue life called “Hallelu!” featured a who’s who of musical talent: Neshama Carlebach, Danny Maseng, Rick Recht, Merri Arian, Theodore Bikel, Craig Taubman, a choir of local cantors, and, to close the celebration, we turned to Debbie. More than 5,000 clergy and lay leaders from across the denominations crowded the Universal Amphitheatre for this tribute to synagogues. When we sponsored “Hallelu Atlanta” a few years later, once again we called on Debbie to culminate the sold-out experience, bringing 3,500 people in the Fox Theatre to their feet in a joyous celebration of synagogue transformation.
Debbie loved teaching and she loved people. She had the gift of creating an instant bond with her “students.” Once her music became so universally recognized, her appearances became more like folk rock concerts, everyone singing along on every song. Except one. When Debbie began singing her Mi Shebeirach and the crowd began to sing, Debbie would gently hush them. “Don’t sing,” she would whisper. “This is for you.” What a gift she gave us in that moment.
Debbie will be remembered by many for her music. We will remember her as a beloved colleague who supported our work to bring spirit and soul into synagogue worship. May her memory always be a blessing…and “let us say, Amen.”
The S3K team