Debbie Friedman

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Debbie Friedman
Debbie Friedman.jpg
Background information
Birth nameDeborah Lynn Friedman
Born(1951-02-23)February 23, 1951
Utica, New York
DiedJanuary 9, 2011(2011-01-09) (aged 59)
Mission Viejo, California
GenresMusic-Jewish Liturgy
Occupation(s)Jewish songwriter/songleader
Years active1971–2011

Deborah Lynn "Debbie" Friedman (February 23, 1951 – January 9, 2011) [1] [2] [3] [4] was an American singer-songwriter of Jewish religious songs and melodies. She is best known for her setting of "Mi Shebeirach", [4] the prayer for healing, which is used by hundreds of congregations across America. [2] Her songs are used by some Orthodox Jewish congregations, as well as non-Orthodox Jewish congregations. [5] Friedman was a feminist, and Orthodox Jewish feminist Blu Greenberg noted that while Friedman's music impacted most on Reform and Conservative liturgy, "she had a large impact [in] Modern Orthodox shuls, women’s tefillah [prayer], the Orthodox feminist circles.... She was a religious bard and angel for the entire community." [5] [6]



The daughter of Freda and Gabriel Friedman, Debbie was born in New York. From age five she was raised in Minnesota. [7] [8] She wrote many of her early songs as a song leader at the overnight camp Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, in the early 1970s. Between 1971 and 2010 she recorded 22 albums. [9] Her work was inspired by such diverse sources as Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, and a number of other folk music artists. Friedman employed both English and Hebrew lyrics and wrote for all ages. Some of her songs are "The Aleph Bet Song", "Miriam's Song", and the songs "Not By Might" and "I am a Latke". She also performed in synagogues and concert halls. [9]

Friedman had suffered since the 1990s from a neurological condition, [4] with effects apparently similar to multiple sclerosis. [10] The story of her music, as well as the challenges she faced in living with illness, were featured in a 2004 documentary film about Friedman called A Journey of Spirit, produced by Ann Coppel, which followed her from 1997 to 2002. [11] [12]

In 2007, Friedman accepted an appointment to the faculty of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's School of Sacred Music in New York (now called the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music) where she instructed both rabbinic and cantorial students. [13]

In 2010, she was named to the Forward 50 after the release of her 22nd album As You Go On Your Way: Shacharit – The Morning Prayers. [9]

Friedman was a lesbian but did not talk about it in public. Her obituary in The New York Times was thus the first time her sexual identity was publicized. [14]

Death and legacy

She was admitted to a Mission Viejo, California Hospital in January 2011, where she died January 9, 2011, from pneumonia. [15]

Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, announced on January 27, 2011, that the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's School of Sacred Music would be renamed the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. On December 7, 2011, it was officially renamed as such. [16] [17]

In 2014 the book Sing Unto God: The Debbie Friedman Anthology was published; it features "every song she wrote and recorded (plus more than 30 songs previously unavailable) in lead sheet format, with complete lyrics, melody line, guitar chords, Hebrew, transliteration, and English translation." [18]

Among her music that remains the most sung in North American Jewish communities include her "Mi Shebeirach" (co-written with Drorah Setel), [19] [20] "Miriam's Song" and her Havdalah melody. [21]



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  1. Cohen, Debra Nussbaum, Debbie Friedman, Beloved Jewish Composer and Performer, Dead at 59, The Jewish Daily Forward , January 9, 2011
  2. 1 2 Horn, Jordana, Beloved US Jewish songwriter, Debbie Friedman, dies, The Jerusalem Post , January 9, 2011
  3. Woo, Elaine, Debbie Friedman, self-taught Jewish folk singer, dies at 59, Los Angeles Times , January 11, 2011
  4. 1 2 3 Fox, Margalit, Debbie Friedman, Singer of Jewish Music, Dies at 59, The New York Times , January 11, 2011
  5. 1 2 "Beloved Singer Debbie Friedman Dead at 59". The Advocate . January 1, 2011. Retrieved January 24, 2011.
  6. "Debbie Friedman's Gift". The Jewish Week . January 1, 2011.
  7. Sparber, Max (January 10, 2011). "Debbie Friedman, Minnesota-raised Jewish songwriter, dies". MinnPost. When we think of one Jewish songwriter from Minnesota who changed everything, we usually think of Bob Dylan.
  8. Sermer, Tanya (2016). "Jewish Spiritual Healing, Mi Shebeirach, and the Legacy of Debbie Friedman". In Kingsbury, Paul; Andrews, Gavin J.; Kearns, Robin (eds.). Soundscapes of Wellbeing in Popular Music. Routledge. p. 78. ISBN   9781317052364. Deborah Lynn Friedman (1951–2011) was born in Utica, New York, and lived most of her childhood in St. Paul, Minnesota.
  9. 1 2 3 "Forward 50, 2010". The Jewish Daily Forward. October 26, 2010. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  10. Theiner, Manny (May 1, 2008). "Jewish folk-singer Debbie Friedman performs at Temple Sinai". Pittsburgh City Paper. Retrieved September 23, 2008.
  11. Coppel, Ann (2002). "A Journey of Spirit". Ann Coppel Productions. Retrieved September 23, 2008.
  12. Klug, Lisa Alcalay. "Debbie Friedman's Spiritual Undertaking", The Jerusalem Post, December 12, 2004.
  13. Fishkoff, Sue (July 1, 2007). "Camp fire to academy: Popular singer teaches Reform cantors". Retrieved September 23, 2008.
  14. Route 17 (November 2, 2013). "Debbie Friedman Talks About Being Gay". The Jewish Week. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  15. Debbie Friedman, Jewish songwriter and performer, dies, JTA, January 9, 2011.
  16. "Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music Renaming at HUC-JIR/New York". December 7, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2013.
  17. "Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Dedicates Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music". Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. November 1, 2011. Retrieved November 19, 2018.
  18. "URJ Books And Music :: Music – Song Books, Folios and Instrumental :: Sing Unto God: The Debbie Friedman Anthology". December 1, 2013. Archived from the original on February 15, 2015. Retrieved February 14, 2015.
  22. World class education in a nurturing urban environment. "Highland Park High School Hall of Fame". Retrieved December 4, 2013.