Debbie Friedman, 1951-2011

Influential and inspirational Jewish singer and songwriter Debbie Friedman, 59, died in California on Sunday, January 9. Her well-loved songs infused traditional prayers with spirituality and meaning for contemporary Jews, and today they are sung in Jewish communities across the country and around the world. Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly interviewed her in 2000, and she spoke about her most famous prayer put to song, “Mi Sheberach,” used in healing services in many synagogues.


DEBBIE FRIEDMAN: When people are sick, when they are emotionally sick, when they are physically sick, there’s a feeling that nobody could possibly understand what it feels like to be in this body or in this mind, in this heart, and it is so isolating and so painful, and when people come together in a healing service the secret’s out. Everybody knows that every single person there is struggling with the same pain.

We are doing these healing services because healing isn’t being addressed, until recently. We can’t talk about spirituality, and we can’t talk about God, and we can’t talk about sickness. And I think that spiritually if you don’t have the opportunity to exercise your heart and soul, you don’t really fully understand all that you are.

I think that each one of us is here for a purpose, and that is really the focus of my work—that each of us needs to acknowledge what blessings we carry within us, that it’s up to each one of us to give all that we have to the world. I’ve said this before, but we are not here for a free ride. We are here to do a job.

  • Vanessa Ochs

    You have reminded us that Debbie Friedman’s words were as powerful and transformative as her music.

    How can we observe her shloshim, these first most difficult thirty days of mourning, how do we continue Debbie’s work?

    May I suggest this: We can celebrate the talents and strengths we have each been blessed with, and let them radiate into our words, our relationships and our actions.

  • Chaplain Randee

    Beautifully said, Vanessa.
    Thanks for sending this my way Sister Coletta.
    Debbie’s death is sending ripples of pain throughout our prayer-filled communities, Jewish and all other.
    May we continue her good work on our own paths and in our own ways.

    She will be greatly missed.

  • Jerry Blaz

    I am so sad that this Singer of Israel is no longer among us. Unfortunately there was no singer able to provide that healing service capable of repairing her body and giving her a longer life, not only for her, but for us.

    The end of the sh’loshim period should be marked by a concert of her music, music that healed the souls of so many.

    Jerry Blaz

  • Channah

    I just read this and till now did not know that Debbie Friendman had died. I have always enjoyed her music and her voice—-the voice of an everyday person with alot of heart—-not a diva with an agenda of fame.

  • Len M.

    The JCC in NYC is holding a memorial service for Debbie Friedman at Central Synagogue on Jan. 27th. See the flyer below:

  • Joy Krauthammer

    I agree with Vanessa’s suggestion. And in addition, express that we do our mitzvot, our actions, in the zechut of / in merit of Debbie Friedman, z’l, and our other beloved ones, so that we can assist ilui neshamah, a soul elevation. Do you hear all those angels singing?

    When I gave away dozens of baby fig trees for Tu B’Shvat this week, I asked that people plant them in the light of Debbie Friedman, z’l, in her memory. Figs are like Torah, to be savored through and through. Debbie taught us Torah through her music.

    We can continue singing Debbie’s songs for Shabbat, holidays, and all life-cycle occasions. Did you know that Debbie wrote MiSheberach and Miriam’s Song for Marty Cohn Spiegel’s Simchat Chochmah ~ Joy of Wisdom eldering ceremony, and co-wrote Lechi Lach with Savina Teubal, z’l, for the Simchat Chochmah that Savina originally created when she turned 60?

    Share these songs in writing at shuls so that all can easily sing them in our own time. Sing these songs so we, too, can continue to create the physical circle in healing ceremonies, so important to Debbie, and have “those in need of healing” step inside and be gently embraced by all. We can offer the names of those in need out loud to The Compassionate One to hear our prayers for healing of body and soul, not only in shul but all the time.

    At this time of Shloshim, we can have larger memorials to share the meanings of the songs. We here in LA, while we sang her songs on Shabbat Shira, are already planning regional memorials, thanks to her colleagues that continue Debbie’s mission. Transform each tear into a mitzvah and “reap in joy” in the name of Debbie Friedman.

    I loved playing timbrel with Debbie “and the women dancing…”. We continue…

    I am grateful that my daughter, the next generation, prayed, sang and danced with Debbie. She was a blesSing.

    In sympathy,
    Joy Krauthammer

  • Elaine

    There are variations in transliteration of Mi Sheberach into English, but “Misha berach” isn’t one of them.
    “Mi” is one word, and “Sheberach” is the next word.

  • david

    does anyone know the song she sang at the end of the program 0n 01-11-11