Tag: Debbie Friedman

Bruce Springsteen, Dan Nichols and Electrifying Music

Music is like that. Electrifying, exhilarating, intoxicating. Music can transport us to higher planes of existence. I notice it whenever we go to a concert. Or go dancing. When just sitting in the sanctuary listening to Cantor Cotler when he is in the groove.

Connecting Teens Thru Music
If you want your kids to connect Jewishly, bring them to a Jewish Rock Concert. Watch them interact with their peers, even those they don’t know, as the music transforms them and transports them.

Watch Dan Nichols singing Redemption.]

A Mosh Pit in the Sanctuary
So we invite you to connect or reconnect your kid to Judaism and Or Ami in a uniquely energetic way. Bring them (yes, you should attend but like me will sit toward the back and sides, while the kids are in a mosh pit in the center of the sanctuary). The concert is appropriate for all ages, but every 6th-12th grader should be at or Ami for that 1+ hour experience. Adults should come too.

Tickets are only $10.00 ahead of time (reserve yours online here) or $15.00 at the door. Seats will sell out, so reserve yours now. Reserve your tickets here.

Music speaks louder than words. Make sure your kids and their friends are at Or Ami for this Jewish Rock Concert. 

So Debbie Friedman Died… Perhaps God was Too Busy Arranging the Outcome of the BCS Football Championship Game

At the end of the Auburn-Oregon BCS college football championship game, many winning Auburn players – including the coach and the quarterback – thanked God for being with them so that they could win the game. In fact, following the win, the Auburn team huddled together in a prayer circle.

At the moment, tens of thousands of people around the world were facing the sad painful reality that in spite of all the Mi Shebeirach healing prayers sung according to nusach Debbie Friedman (e.g. to her tune), Debbie died nonetheless.

Two groups praying; two different results. What gives, God?

It makes me kind of wonder:

Was God just too busy managing the results of college football championship that God didn’t have the time or inclination to respond to the tens of thousands of healing prayer requests for Debbie?


Is the Mi Shebeirach prayer just an ineffectual prayer or perhaps too nuanced (and God instead prefers the black & white, win or lose prayers of the football players)?


Are we getting this God and prayer thing wrong?

A few years back, when the Red Sox were playing in the World Series, I wrote a post entitled: “Can I pray that my Red Sox will win?”  I wondered: Is there a one to one relationship between our prayers and the results? Or said differently, how does it work? Is it “We pray and God responds”? Then why didn’t God respond to the Mi Shebeirach healing prayers for the very woman – Debbie Friedman – who brought the Mi Shebeirach back into vogue?

Here’s how I answer that questions:

Perhaps God does respond, but differently than we hoped. 

The Mi Shebeirach is about healing, not necessarily curing. In my reading of Jewish tradition, I have not found any guarantee that God offers a cure. To cure is to remove the illness, the depression, or the disease from our bodies and minds. But the One Who Heals always offers us, and our loved ones, the promise of refu’ah, of healing. Healing is about finding a way to face whatever is ahead. It is about shalom, that sense of wholeness, amidst the brokenness of our lives. Healing is about chometz lev, the courage to go on and face the new day.  And its about shalom – wholeness and peace.  

So healing sometimes means that death comes and through it, a return of peace and tranquility, a return to the arms of the Holy One.

Which means that we, who are left behind, must face life without Debbie, even as we remain open to our still loving, ever caring God.

Remembering Debbie Friedman: A Tribute

I read it on Twitter, that Debbie Friedman had died. The Jewish world lost one of the leading lights in Jewish music. I am heartbroken. Debbie Friedman opened up my heart and soul to holiness and the Holy One. And now she is gone.

To understand the depth of the grief sweeping across the Jewish community, one might recall the profound sense of loss that permeated our world upon the news of the death of John Lennon. When Lennon died, the world lost one of the greats – a singer, composer, poet, visionary, and serene commentator on the excesses of his world. Similarly, Debbie’s death removes from our midst one of gedolei hador (the great of the generation).

Debbie Friedman has touched more lives and brought more people into Judaism through her music than – I would argue – any rabbi who has ever opened his or her mouth. She has connected people to their Jewish spirituality more than any composer around the world. Debbie was not just a singer/songleader; she was poet and liturgist. She was an inspiring artist, who was uniquely able to translate the ancient words of our Jewish tradition into engaging musical pieces which spoke anew to a generation alienated from the inherited formal melodies of their parents.

Debbie taught us Lechi Lach, a song based upon the Divine call to Abram to leave his birthplace and home to venture forth to an unknown land. In this one simple piece, she accomplished multiple goals. She taught a primary Torah narrative about God’s eternal promise to people who had forgotten our ancestor’s heroic journey. She recast the story as the egalitarian tale that the Zohar mystically hints at – as a call to both Abram and to his wife Sarai. Then she reminded us that this story was our story; that God’s pledge to Abram and Sarai continues for us today. As such, Debbie Friedman renewed the Divine promise: that we all would be, could be, and are a blessing!

Debbie Friedman got her start in Jewish summer camps, especially at Camp Swig in Saratoga, CA, and in the NFTY youth movement. There Debbie married the hopefulness of the 1960’s and 1970’s with the abiding values of Torah and tradition. She helped us “Sing unto God a New Song,” while reminding us, like the prophets before her, that “Not by might, not by power, but by spirit alone, shall we all live in peace.”

Given the radical nature of everything connected to the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, Debbie’s transformation from a youth songleader into a – the? – central Jewish musical figure of our time was not easy. But it was complete. Debbie went from being shunned by many cantors as the epitome of everything that was wrong with the then-current state of new Jewish music, to being embraced by synagogues around the world and invited to join the Cantorial faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and Los Angeles.

Debbie’s true beauty is that she gave voice to so many people because her music and melodies were accessible and extremely peaceful. This led her to become the champion of the nascent Jewish healing movement. Her Mi Shebeirach healing prayer-song combined Hebrew and English to inspire for those struggling with illness. Rituals of naming those seeking healing grew up around her prayer-song, allowing people to bring their anxiety and worry back into the synagogue.

Yet the quiet power of her musical genius can be found in how she engaged every Jew in the pews (and beyond) to sing out for holiness. Suddenly, she flattened the liturgical hierarchy, enabling each one of us to give voice to our aching hearts. In her concerts she repeatedly instructed her audience remain quiet and receive blessings of healing, yet those gathered often sang aloud nonetheless. All because Debbie had already placed the ability to pray for healing back in our mouths, and we refused to sit back to allow another – even the composer herself – to speak for us.

Or as Debbie wrote on her website: “We are not just the recipients of blessings, but the messengers of blessings as well. Remember, out of what emerges from life’s painful challenges will come our healing. And ultimately, our greatest healing will come when we use our suffering to heal another’s pain – to release another from their confinement.”

I twice led retreats in Malibu, CA with Debbie for Jews recovering from alcoholism and addictions. Few Jewish leaders seemed to intrinsically understand the unique challenges faced by people trying to recover from the constant pull of an addiction. But Debbie walked confidently into the retreat, and with openness and vulnerability, listened to stories of struggle and failure. Then, with hope and quiet strength, she began to speak and teach and sing. She lifted each participant up, out of the morass that consumed them. Her music painted a picture of courage and peace. How easily we were lulled into a place of healing and serenity with seemingly little effort on our part!

There are plenty of people who do not even know that the melodies that they love and cherish were written by Debbie Friedman. But they know how wonderfully spiritual her melodies make them feel. And that explains why her music is widespread and her legacy will be abiding.

Now Debbie Friedman has died. We join our light and our prayers together, wishing strength and love for her family. May her memory be for a blessing.

Blessings of Healing for Debbie Friedman

At Congregation Or Ami, we devoted our Shabbat services’ d’var refu’ah (words about healing) to asking for blessings of healing for Debbie Friedman.  View the d’var refu’ah.  

Debbie Friedman – nationally known Jewish composer, singer, and inspiration of the Jewish healing movement – composed and sings so many of the songs that enlivened Jewish worship worldwide: Thou Shalt Love the Lord Thy God, Lechi Lach, Mi Shebeirach, and a beautiful arrangement of Ahavat Olam.  

Debbie is now in need of prayers of healing for herself.  The singer, who at her concerts asked us to accept blessings of healing before singing along with her, lies in a hospital bed in Orange County.  Her condition is grave. The latest news (from Friday):

Debbie remains in the hospital, sedated and breathing with the aid of a respirator. Debbie’s sister Sheryl reports that the doctors’ measures have not yet succeeded in opening up her lungs. They are rotating her bed in different ways in the hope that that may shake loose some of the material blocking her breathing.

We join with Jewish communities all around the world, praying for healing for Debbie, her family and her community. 

View Or Ami’s healing prayers