Friday, January 7, 2011

Debbie Friedman

There are many people who know Debbie better than I, but I do know her, and wanted to share a few thoughts about her. I know Debbie in three different ways. As a young, rather confused 20-something working for NFTY, I had the honor of being Debbie’s “body man” for a concert she was doing at a NFTY event, even getting the opportunity to play a little bodyguard at the front of the stage. I met her in her hotel room with her pianist, heard a couple of ribald jokes on the way down to the stage from her room, and ended things with a hug, a smile, and a friend.

The second way I know Debbie is through my wife, Rosalie. Rosalie is a cantor and a songleader, and through her I have known Debbie as a friend and mentor, someone who both inspires and encourages. She has always tried to lift Rosalie up, professionally and personally, and to see her impact on Rosalie has always left my heart warm.

The third way I know Debbie is through my mother, and it’s that relationship that made the greatest impression on me. The first time my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, we got very lucky – my mom went through all of her treatments like a champ, fighting through the chemo, surgery and recovery with the spirit and fire for which we had all come to love her. Somewhere in the middle of it all, Debbie got involved. For the life of me I can’t remember how, but Debbie and my mother began exchanging emails. My mother was a convert, a true daughter of Ruth, and had always been the driving Jewish force in our family. She was also incredibly musical, and Debbie’s music enveloped her with a warm yet powerful embrace, welcoming my mother into Judaism in its own unique way.

I can’t say I know the nature of the conversations between my mom and Debbie; all I can say is that Debbie took the time and energy to reach out and befriend a woman she didn’t know, a woman who was in clear need of a kind, heartfelt mishbeirach. It is for this that I have always loved Debbie. Not for her music, which I adore, or her friendship, which I treasure, or for the role she has played in my wife’s life, which I cherish. For a brief time, long before darker days clouded my mother’s sky, she and Debbie Friedman were friends. When my mom was in need of a r'fuah sh'leimah, Debbie was there for her.

Debbie – I am now here for you. We all are. You have always been here for us in our times of need. Now we are here for you.