The American Jewish community has suffered two great tragedies over the past week – the death of singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman and the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). (At the time of this writing, the Congresswoman is in critical condition.)
To be honest, I don’t know much more about either of these women than one can read online. However, I have been reading about both of them frequently over the past few days. I am struck not only by what a tremendous impact they have each made on our country and our community, but that they have done so as Jewish women.
If someone had taken aside my grandmother and told her that it would be a Jewish woman who would revolutionize Jewish music, she would have never believed it. Yet over the course of her career, Debbie Friedman created an entire genre of beautiful, accessible songs that have been embraced by Jews across the country. Chances are that if you have been in a synagogue lately, you’ve heard one of her melodies or sang her lyrics. As Amy noted in her recent post, one of Debbie’s most famous songs is her version of the Mi Shebeirach, or prayer for healing.
Although the first Jewish woman was elected to the House of Representatives in 1925 (Florence Kahn of California), my grandmother would have been even more shocked to learn that a Jewish woman can also be, according to the New York Times, “an avid equestrian and motorcycle enthusiast, repository of arcane health care data, successful Democrat elected three times in a Republican Congressional district, French horn player and wife of an astronaut”. Yet Congresswoman Giffords is all that. She is widely respected for her political smarts, outgoing nature, and willingness to cast difficult votes on issues she believes in.
As I think about the loss of Debbie Friedman at such a relatively young age (Ms. Friedman was in her late 50’s), and the callous violence that has so gravely injured the Congresswoman, I can’t help but think of my own daughters, two Jewish women in the making. Who will they grow up to be? What will they accomplish? And how can I protect them from illness and violence?
I know. I know. I can’t really protect them. But I can teach them that in this time, in our country, Jewish women really can live the life of their dreams. And I can also teach them that yes, terrible, painful things happen, but we Jews are no strangers to tragedy. That in these times of loss and pain, we rely on each other, on our faith, and our history to remember that life goes on, and that we must take advantage of every opportunity and feel grateful for each gift we have been given. I can teach them about the amazing Jewish women who have gone before them, and who continue, each day, to lead tremendous lives that would have been unimaginable to their great-grandmother.
So, today I would like to say thank you to Debbie Friedman, z”l, for sharing your song with us. Perhaps we can all remember you as we sing the Mi Shebeirach for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who has truly found the courage to make her life a blessing. We pray for her full recovery.