I was so sad to learn of the passing of Debbie Friedman this weekend.
Like me, Debbie was a songleader at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, aka “Jew Camp” in Wisconsin. Unlike me, Debbie had a true gift at creating beautiful, original music that touched millions of people.
My summers, for the 12 years that I went to OSRUI, were filled with Debbie’s music. A few times, I even got to sing and learn with her. She had a quiet but strong presence that could command a crowd of hundreds of restless youth campers. Her music had a perfect blend of evoking tradition and spirituality while feeling current and accessible.
I also remember learning, early-on (before I had very many LGBTQ role models) that Debbie was a lesbian. It wasn’t widely talked about; yet, somehow knowing that she was ‘family’ was validating in my years of questioning and feeling challenged by coming at to my camp community.
My mother remained a Debbie Friedman superfan, long after I had stopped listening to my cassette mix tapes of Jewish camp music. Mom, I honor and feel the grief I imagine you are experiencing.
So I hope that Debbie, whose legacy will sing on at camps, youth groups, and synagogues for years to come, is resting in peace. And I think of words from one of her own songs:
And you shall be a blessing, you shall be a blessing
You shall be a blessing lechi lach