(JTA) — Debbie Friedman, a popular singer and songwriter who is widely credited with reinvigorating synagogue music, has died.
Friedman died Sunday after being hospitalized in Southern California for several days with pneumonia. She was in her late 50s.
“Debbie influenced and enriched contemporary Jewish music in a profound way,” read a statement published Sunday on the website of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Her music crossed generational and denominational lines and carved a powerful legacy of authentic Jewish spirituality into our daily lives.”
Friedman brought a more folksy, sing-along style to American congregations. In 2007 she was appointed to the faculty of the Reform movement’s cantorial school in a sign that her style had gained mainstream acceptance.
She is best known for her composition “Mi Shebeirach,” a prayer for healing that is sung in many North American congregations.
Friedman released more than 20 albums and performed in sold-out concerts around the world at synagogues, churches, schools and prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall. She received dozens of awards and was lauded by critics worldwide.
“Debbie Friedman was an extraordinary treasure of our movement and an individual of great influence,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Twenty-five years ago, North American Jews had forgotten how to sing. Debbie reminded us how to sing, she taught us how to sing. She gave us the vehicles that enabled us to sing. Then she impacted our youth and our camps and, ultimately, from there she impacted our synagogues.
“What happens in the synagogues of Reform Judaism today — the voices of song — are in large measure due to the insight, brilliance and influence of Debbie Friedman.”
For more on Friedman’s impact on the Jewish world, read Sue Fishkoff’s 2007 article “70s rebel takes job at cantorial school.”