Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Monday, January 10, 2011

A deep, profound loss for the whole Jewish world

I realized something VERY important when I first began my friendship with Debbie Friedman. I realized that she was iconic. Not because she cultivated herself into an icon, or because she prided herself on her multitude of accomplishments. But because she lived deeply.
And out of that depth came a profound love of Judaism, music, and creativity. Her accomplishments made her iconic because she changed the world of Judaism and how people lived in it. She brought them out of themselves to connect to a greater community by singing, praying, and worshiping together in music they could relate to. She was unafraid to infuse Judaism with her own love of folk and guitar music - and the Reform Jewish world over the last 25 years is so grateful to her for that courage.

On Sunday morning, Debbie Friedman died, and I have been trying to get a grip on the many emotions that it is producing both within me and around me. I am deeply saddened to have lost the friend that I really got to know a few years ago. I am reliving my precious memories of her, sometimes crying and often laughing to myself.

But more than my own personal memories and feelings, I am astounded by the outpouring of emotion that her death has caused. I see it on Twitter, on Facebook, on blog posts, in articles. Whether or not people knew her personally, in passing, or were simply touched by her music, her legacy is everywhere in this Jewish world. The URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) is collecting tribute submissions on their homepage. Her funeral service will be streamed live on Tuesday morning. And NPR did a segment on her this evening, including some of her music.

Debbie was an inspiration for me musically, but also personally. She once commended me on singing her "Halleluyah" at a service she was at, commenting how hard it is for people to perform in front of composers. "That took guts - but you nailed it." As I developed a friendship with her, she would so often hear about my desire to pursue Jewish music and she would say to me, almost annoyed, "So what's holding you back? Do it already. If you love something, don't throw it away..."

Debbie, for me personally, inspires me to live courageously, to live fully, to love my music and Judaism, and my spirit all in the same breath. To thousands that have known her or heard her music, she allows us to live deeply, and to be courageous with ourselves. She changed the picture of Jewish music and really the face of Judaism in the latter half of the 20th century. And she will continue to live on in our hearts, our memories, our voices, and our breath.

"You are gentle, you are kind. And you may not know this, but it's you...."