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October 10, 2015 | 27th Tishrei 5776

Mark Pelavin, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism

I knew Debbie Friedman's music long before I came to work for the Reform Movement, and long before I knew Debbie.

I knew her music because I grew up in a Reform congregation, and because I went to Jewish summer camp – two places where her music was, ironically, the prevailing orthodoxy in my day. Debbie's songs have, it seems, always been part of the soundtrack of my life.  I learned as much Torah from Debbie's songs as I did from any Sunday school teacher!

When I joined the Union staff, I had the opportunity to work with Debbie, mostly at our Biennial General Assemblies.  I saw how fragile she was physically, and how strong she was emotionally.  I saw her as serious as can be, backstage getting ready for a concert, and I saw her goofing around with her follow performers rehearsing the Biennial "Song Session." 

I have seen how often, when Debbie's name came up in conversation, as it regularly did, people had stories to share of her personal kindness and inspiration.  It seems as if there was not a congregational social hall or bimah her travels had not taken her to, nor a single camp dining hall which had not hosted her.  And where ever she went Debbie left indelible memories, and collected more friends.

I'm not sure I knew Debbie well enough to count her as a friend.  I hope I did.  But I surely know that she was my teacher. And for that I'm so very grateful.

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