Debbie Friedman 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
NEW YORK – What was originally billed as a healing service became a memorial
service Sunday night at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center, as hundreds
turned out in person and thousands on-line to mourn the passing of beloved
American Jewish songwriter Debbie Friedman.
“This is not a funeral,” JCC
Manhattan Rabbi Joy Levitt told attendees, both to those crowded into the JCC’s
gym and those watching on a simultaneous Internet broadcast.
be no eulogy, or words of tribute.”
Instead, Levitt said, the group would
be serving as virtual shomrim – those who guard a body before its burial –
paying tribute to Friedman’s life through song.
It was estimated that
3,000 people watched the service on the Internet, JCC organizers said. A virtual
tribute carried on simultaneously with the service, as Friedman fans and friends
posted loving messages on the service’s chat stream, Facebook and Twitter page
One observer noted on Twitter in typical text for the
website, “hundreds of ppl sharing their stories, typing ‘amen’ after every sung
prayer, old friends reuniting in the chat stream. powerful.”
gymnasium itself, tears flowed freely among participants, who held tealight
candles, and swayed back and forth with the music, which included well-known
Friedman works like “Mi Shebayrach” and “L’chi Lach.”
The group ranged in
age from babies sleeping in car seats and child carriers to elderly couples. As
they wept, participants (at one point, including Mandy Patinkin, famed actor and
singer of “Mamaloshen”) sang with the song leaders, who included Central
Synagogue Senior Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl.
“When I was a young
child, it was [Friedman’s] music that opened up my connection to the Jewish
community,” Buchdahl told the Post, noting that Friedman was a personal mentor.
“Her music was a total game-changer in terms of bringing out an accessible,
openly vulnerable music that just allowed people to unleash their prayers in a
way that they hadn’t been able to do before.
“She was able to tap into
that piece of us that needed some way to really express ourselves,” Buchdahl
“She changed the way that Jewish music happened.”
funeral will take place Tuesday in Santa Ana, California. A formal memorial
service in New York will be scheduled over the next few weeks, Levitt
Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie said in a
press release, “Debbie Friedman was an extraordinary treasure of our Movement,
and one of its most influential voices. Twenty-five years ago, North American
Jews had forgotten how to sing. Debbie reminded us how to sing, she taught us
how to sing. She gave us the vehicles that enabled us to sing. What happens in
the synagogues of Reform Judaism today – the voices of song – are in large
measure due to the insight, brilliance and influence of Debbie
“By creating a whole new genre of Jewish music, Debbie was
able to reintroduce authentic Jewish spirituality,” said Rabbi Daniel
Freelander, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism and a longtime friend
and fellow songwriter. “She wrote melodies that spoke to us, spoke to our
intellect, spoke to our emotions.
“Debbie’s influence reached every
corner of our Movement, and of the American Jewish community,” he
“Her connection to, and with, Jewish camps was particularly
powerful. Today’s rabbis, cantors and Jewish leaders were inspired by Debbie, so
often quite personally.
Although she faced great health challenges,
Debbie was a constant presence in the lives of our camps, conferences and