The recent passing of Debbie Friedman, a remarkable songwriter and uplifting performer, has brought together a worldwide Jewish community united by the music she contributed to our lives. She was a treasure to Jews everywhere, bridging denominations, connecting us and helping our lives resonate with the Jewish values she felt so intensely.
Debbie drew the inspiration for her many songs from Tanach. Bringing forth a message of youthful passion for the future, her song “And the Youth Shall See Visions” was adapted from the Book of Joel. The song paints an image of a young generation committed to taking the reins of their lives and accepting responsibility for molding the world for the generations that follow.
“And our hopes shall rise up to the sky.”
Debbie’s 40-year passion for songwriting was ignited while serving as a songleader at Jewish overnight camp in the 1970s. Though she eventually reached “superstar” status in the world of Jewish entertainers, there was something more important about the way she lived her life and how she used her success to influence a next generation.
Not satisfied with merely being a performer, she was always a teacher. Debbie taught a whole generation of songleaders and songwriters to bring their own spirituality and their Jewish teachings into their music. She taught at camps, at conventions, at Hebrew Union College and inspired many to follow the musical trail she blazed.
She was a role model, a constant reminder of the importance of embracing our Jewish past, the lessons of our forefathers and the strength of a community driven by common values. Even as she modernized Jewish celebration and worship with new tunes, her music became “traditional,” and she similarly influenced others to combine the old with the new.
She immersed herself in Jewish experience. Debbie’s music has become so intertwined in many of our worship services and our holiday celebrations, because it was written to enhance the communal experience. Her tunes injected ritual experiences with joy and warmth, connection and spirituality, supported with lyrics always reflecting the Jewish values taught by our texts. Her music put an exclamation point on the prayers, never wavering from the richness of the worship experience, but elevating it and helping us feel more deeply connected.
As we shape the experiences for today’s next generation of Jewish youth, let us remember all we were taught by Debbie Friedman. Let us strive to create Jewish experiences at camp, in youth groups, in our schools and in our homes, experiences that underscore our core values and that blend joy with tradition. Let us never forget that we share the responsibility to model our dreams and our hopes for our children, encouraging people in the next generation to paint their own colorful visions of the future.
Zichronah Liv’racha. May her memory be for a blessing.
“We must live for today; we must build for tomorrow. Give us time, give us strength, give us life.”