Cantor Susan Caro, President, American Conference of Cantors
Walking into my first song session, more than 30 years ago at Kutz Camp, I knew that I had come home. The music danced through my head, becoming the soundtrack of my youth and of my life.
Sing Unto God, And Thou Shalt Love, Not By Might--understandable English texts, expressed through music that sang in the keys of our generation--music that inspired me to find my own voice, to find and experience the joy of leading others in song. I understood that this songleader's path I was on was trail-blazed by Debbie Friedman; to me, she was just a name and a picture on my well-worn and played NFTY albums. It wasn't until a few years later that I met Debbie in person for the first time; having the honor of sharing a stage with her at a CAJE concert, I began to understand the depth of her influence and her character. She greeted me backstage as if we had always known one another; I was struck by her interest in me and my journey, and by her graciousness of spirit. As she took my hand to stand with her, to share her microphone, she urged me to remember that our joy in singing is contagious, to just share that with others. For Debbie, music was always about lifting spirits and opening people's hearts to find their own voice. This became an essential element of my own path in the Cantorate; she gave to me, and to so many others, the freedom to discover our most authentic selves in our music and our prayer. Together with Cantors, singers, teachers and Jewish musicians, Debbie reached across that which separated us to expand the ways in which we all conceived of and expressed our prayer through music, understanding the complex nature of that weaving for each individual. Grateful for this growth and collaboration, it was a beautiful and fitting moment in 2003 when the American Conference of Cantors granted Honorary Membership to Debbie, as one who stood alongside our membership in elevating the spirit through the abiding influence of song.
We recognize the paradox of her passing away the week of parashat Beshallach, the week in which our Jewish calendar and our sacred texts celebrate the power of song to express our love for God and to value our freedom. Debbie brought Miriam to life for us out of the letters of our sefer Torah--she became a present-day Miriam, a strong and courageous woman who helped to give voice to the prayers and music of generations to come. A light has gone out in the Jewish world; she has forever touched our heart and minds, and we are forever changed because of her courage and inspiration. As she urged us so many times, we in the American Conference of Cantors will continue to honor her teachings as we continue to rise and sing fully the prayers of our hearts.