Culture

Friday night Debbie

I’ll admit it- there was a time when my younger self was not into Debbie Friedman, ZL. Growing up in a Conservative minyan in a Reform shul, and being the youngest by a generation in said minyan, I mostly thought her stuff was kinda weak. English? Who sings prayers in English? Non-Jews do, that’s who.
I didn’t see what Momma K saw in her, using her music in her Sunday school class. I didn’t see how a song about a latke going bad b/c it wasn’t being fried quickly enough was going to do anything to help my fellow Sunday School students (most of whom were jerks who were not interested in being there or, as far as I could tell, being jewish) actually get into the history, the tradition and the faith of our people.
Of course, it’s easy to see now how wrong I was then. How many loved ones, friends, teachers, how many yids are moved by her voluminous catalog of songs? Friends and acquaintances are sponsoring memorial singalongs across the country, another noted how quiet facebook was during the funeral ceremony. This is the fourth post that’s referencing her on Jewschool in the last few days. How many melodies of hers have I sung and not even known it?
And that’s a question I pose to you, readers. What are your favorite melodies of hers? Let me go one step further. I’ve decided to stay home in the county of rulers instead of joining so many of our friends at an amazing LimmudNY weekend. A friend and neighbor is hosting a singalong service on Friday. Full singalong. What are melodies we could use in a full hebrew liturgy service?

9 thoughts on “Friday night Debbie

  1. Here in the Limmud NY office–we’re already here because we wanted to beat the storm–we were talking last night about Havdalah. One person said that they didn’t know the Debbie Friedman Havdalah melody. Another person said that the first person definitely knew the melody. “It’s the Havdalah melody,” she said. And everybody was like, “That one?” “Yeah, that one.
    Also, you can use Debbie’s Mi Chamocha tune. She has one that’s very similar to the Miriam’s song tune, but it’s all Hebrew for Mi Chamocha. That’s the only one I can think of off the top of my head, but I’m certain there are all-Hebrew melodies that I know, but don’t know are hers.

  2. For a Friday night all-Hebrew service, kabbalat shabbat is kind of sparse: her Lecha Dodi (from the original Sing Unto God album) isn’t so well-known, nor is her more recent Mizmor Shir. There’s Sing Unto God itself (Shiru lAdonai), but that’s English. I always think of Debbie when I play the Lewandowski Tzaddik Katamar, because I got the guitar arrangement (that sounds sort of like Here Comes The Sun) from her, but obviously she didn’t write that.
    The options in ma’ariv are much greater. (This is why milieux that allow instruments for kabbalat shabbat but not ma’ariv are so cruel.) In addition to the aforementioned Ahavat Olam and Mi Chamocha (she has written at least 3 Mi Chamochas, but I think the one that sounds like Miriam’s Song is the best, and Miriam’s Song itself is of course from the parsha), there’s also her Sh’ma, which can lead right into V’ahavta (which she wrote in English, but we did that melody once at KZ with the Hebrew words, and I’m thinking of doing that in ma’ariv on Sunday at Limmud NY, now that I’m adding more DF tunes in light of recent events), V’sham’ru (she wrote at least 2, but I think the older one, in major, is better), and Oseh Shalom (this could be done after the silent Amidah or at the end of kaddish). If you want to be gung-ho, you could do one of her (at least) 2 Bar’chu melodies, though neither of those has withstood the test of time. The less said about her blues chatzi kaddish, the better.

  3. L’Dor Vador is all Hebrew, and a beautiful melody if you want to sing your way through the Amidah. Her original recording of The Kaddish is good. Her setting of Psalm 150 is also very good.

  4. Another idea is to use melodies of hers you like and set them to the more traditional liturgy. If your community davens a full Kabbalat Shabbat service, you could use her melodies for the ends of the tehillim instead of whatever nusach you usually use. L’chi Lach or her V’shamru works really nicely especially for the end of psalm 93 at the end of the service, setting the tone perfectly for the first mourner’s kaddish of the evening. If you want to ensure singalongability, in announcements about the service ahead of time, give a heads up to folks which melodies you will be using.

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