A 'Jewish visionary': singer Debbie Friedman mourned

By Jennifer Lipman, January 10, 2011
Debbie Friedman at Limmud 2010

Debbie Friedman at Limmud 2010

An influential American singer-songwriter who led a guitar session at Limmud last month has died after being hospitalised with pneumonia.

Debbie Friedman, who was in her late 50s, was considered a key figure in the revival of music within prayer and credited with "reminding Jewish people how to sing”.

In a career spanning more than three decades, Ms Friedman released more than 20 albums, a host of awards and played to vast audiences at venues around the world, including at several Limmud conferences in Britain.

One of her most famous compositions, the healing prayer "Mi Shebeirach," is regularly sung at Reform and Conservative congregations in America.

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) described her as a “passionate Jewish visionary” who “influenced and enriched contemporary Jewish music in a profound way”.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, URJ president, praised her as “an extraordinary treasure” of Reform Judaism.

He said: “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 Friedman.”

The World Union for Progressive Judaism said Ms Friedman had transformed Jewish prayer by making the guitar “a sacred instrument”.

In a statement, they said: “We owe her a debt of gratitude for reviving our spirits, elevating our worship and teaching us that we can create community with a simple song.

“Her music and her spirit will live on.”

Watch: Debbie Friedman performs 'Mi Shebeirach' here

Last updated: 10:48am, January 11 2011