The worldwide Jewish community has lost one of its most eloquent musical voices with the death of Debbie Friedman on Sunday, January 9. Friedman, a singer and songwriter who helped to re-energize synagogue music with her fresh lyrics and sparkling music, died in Southern California at 59. After struggling with multiple sclerosis for years, Friedman died following a brief bout with pneumonia.
Friedman is perhaps best known for her composition “Mi Shebeirach,” a prayer for healing that is sung in congregations in Louisville, across the country and around the world. She recorded more than 20 albums and performed in sold-out concerts around the world, from Carnegie Hall (where a live album was recorded) to synagogues, churches, and schools.
It has been said that when Friedman took up her guitar in front of thousands of people, tilted her face skyward and let her rich voice pour out, the tears often flowed. Friedman was the featured entertainer at the Louisville Hebrew School’s Centennial program at the Iroquois Amphitheater in 2004 and was in Louisville several years prior to help lead a Women’s Seder and perform for residents at Four Courts Senior Center.
As a sign of acceptance for her lively, sing-along style of music in the congregation, Friedman was appointed to the faculty of Reform Judaism’s Cantorial school in 2007.