Memories of Debbie

by Cantor Rebecca Garfein
Senior Cantor, Congregation Rodeph Sholom, New York, NY

I was a young girl the first time I heard Debbie Friedman. I had found a record of her song, Arise My Love, in my home in Tallahassee, Florida and I played the record over and over again in my parents’ living room. I would sing along with the recording, learning the melody as well as the harmony, imitating all of the nuances of Debbie’s voice. I recall the sheer joy I felt singing along with her beautiful melodies. That was just the beginning of a love affair with Debbie’s music that has lasted my whole life. I am quite sure that her influence led me to become a songleader for the Southeast and Texas-Oklahoma youth group regions and ultimately led me to the cantorate. When I became a Cantor and was living in New York City, I came to know Debbie personally. I was President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Cantorial Alumni, when Debbie was made an honorary member of the American Conference of Cantors at Temple Emanu El in Manhattan. We were seated close to one another and became fast friends. That was so Debbie. She had the gift of making you feel that she had known you your entire life. She was one of those rare people that had the power to touch everyone in this way. Through her music and her persona she reached us and drew us in in profound ways.

Debbie’s music is heard within the walls of Rodeph Sholom in New York City  at least a few times a week.  It is a part of the very fabric of our worship services.  Debbie’s Lechi Lach is sung to our B’nei Mitzvah and never fails to bring tears to the eyes.  Our congregation was blessed with a wonderful long-standing relationship with Debbie, hosting many concerts with her. A benefit concert in 1997, raised $100,000 for our youth scholarships. There was also a wonderful concert shortly after 9/11 when Debbie invited me to join her on our bima singing, New York, New York.  An impromptu chorus line ensued and we broke a full glass of water that was sitting on a table nearby with our enthusiasm! A little over a year ago, with guitar in hand, Debbie welcomed beautiful Galit Gordon, daughter of our Rabbi Leora Kaye and Doug Gordon into our community.  Debbie could engage us no matter the venue-be it an intimate gathering or a large concert hall. Debbie was also a true pioneer.  Her music transformed the musical style of the Reform Movement and is a gift that will continue to give for generations to come.  Good-bye dear friend-I feel blessed to have known you and spent such wonderful times making music with you.  May your beautiful voice and spirit join the angels on high-May you be blessed as you go on your way….

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