Debbie Friedman, "Quietly Gay" Jewish Songwriter Dies at 59

January 14, 2011
The faith world lost a troubadour and spiritual leader this week.  Debbie Friedman, self-described child of the 60s set Hebrew prayers to folk-style music and changed the singing tradition in the Jewish world forever. As a feminist, she was viewed as a threat to tradition in the 70s, but Debbie helped enliven the singing tradition in Judaism.  Eventually, with performances in Carnegie hall and liturgical leadership at Hebrew Union College, Debbie Friedman’s music became standard in Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations and crossed over to some Orthodox and Christian groups.  

Debbie Friedman - Jewish Songwriter

The New York Times, one of the few publications that mentioned that she was gay, wrote, “Many of her English lyrics concerned the empowerment of women and other disenfranchised groups, stemming, her associates said on Monday, from the quiet pride she took in her life as a gay woman.”     Jewish and LGBT communities are discussing how much to make of her choice to not be publicly out as gay. Those who knew her well feel like her need for privacy should be respected, even in death.  Jonathan Mark, in The Jewish Week, felt that after the New York Times identified her as gay, he would share her comments from a 2008 interview.  Debbie said, “I’m thinking, more than people need me to come out as a gay person, they need me to come out as a liturgist and a spiritualist. People are more uptight talking about God, more inhibited about God language and God concepts, than they are about sex.”  The LGBT world embraced her as one of their own, and many discovered her for the first time.  GLAAD offers deep sympathies to her loved ones and all who loved her.  Synagogues with primarily LGBT members such as Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, Beth Simchat Torah in New York and Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, along with synagogues across the country are remembering her through song and prayers.