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31http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2011/01/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---01_21_2011
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 01_14_2011
01/13/2011 08:14 AM Posted by:

                In 1975, I was a camper at the regional Reform Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, called Olin-Sang Ruby Union Institute Camp (OSRUI). I loved summer camp. It was about Jewish time in real time. I remember the fun and the sports; I remember the friends, many of whom I still know today. But, I also remember and was moved by the worship. It wasn’t only the trees and the wooden benches, or the carved wooden Ark that made worship meaningful. It was the music. Not just any music, but a new brand that was written and sung and taught by a remarkable young woman named Debbie Friedman.             

               Debbie’s “Sing unto God” and “Shema” followed by “And Thou Shall Teach” spoke to me as a young person and stayed with me for years and years. From her days in Chicago and regional summer camp, came concerts, tapes, cds, and inspired followers who also picked up the guitar and began singing. Debbie Friedman awakened generations and thousands of people to the power of singable and accessible Jewish music for communal worship and personal prayer.             

               In the mid-1970’s, Debbie moved from Chicago to Houston, at Rabbi Karff’s invitation to join him in his new congregation, our beloved Beth Israel. Here, Debbie’s presence inspired many young people in children’s choirs and special performances. Beth Israel commissioned Debbie to write “And the Youth Shall See Visions” for our Confirmation classes. Ever since, Confirmation services have begun with the singing of this remarkable piece of music and lyrics.               

               Debbie’s career flourished long after she left Houston, in 1984. We have continued singing with her especially on Shabbat, when we include “Mi Shebeirach” a prayer for health and healing which she wrote. One of her students remarked, “Debbie’s Mi Shebeirach has become our national anthem.” Indeed, it speaks to all of us every Shabbat; we count on it and we always will. Last week, we sang Mi Shebeirach as we always do, but this time we added Debbie, herself, to our list. She was in critical condition in the hospital. Despite the hopes and prayers of countless fans and friends around the world, Debbie died this week. The funeral was on Tuesday, in California, where her mother and sister lived.             

               Perhaps not coincidentally, Debbie died just as synagogues all over the world will open the Torah this week and read from the portion, Beshalach (Exodus 13:17ff), which includes “The Song of the Sea” (Exodus 15). She wrote music to inspire us to sing “Mi Chamocha” (Ex. 15:11) and to dance with our timbrels to “Miriam’s Song”. This is her Torah portion and this is her legacy: to walk through life carrying with us the struggles that are part of man and woman, to be redeemed with God’s help to be free and develop our God-given talents, and to share in the revelation of Torah through study and teaching; and, by virtue of Debbie’s life, to sing not only familiar words but also to “sing unto God a new song.”             

               This Friday evening at 6:30pm, in the sanctuary, we will remember Debbie Friedman as we memorialize her name. In coming weeks, we’ll honor her legacy by remembering her music. Let’s also learn, “A jewel that is lost, remains a jewel forever.” What can begin on a warm day in prayer at summer camp or among children in the choir continues can inspire us for a lifetime. Zichrona livracha, may her memory be for a blessing now and always.             

               From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom. 
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