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October 4, 2015 | 21st Tishrei 5776

Rabbi Cy Stanway, Temple Beth Miriam, Ocean, NJ

When I was about 15 or so and active in the Holy Blossom Youth Group, we had an extraordinary TYG director, Rabbi Bob Kirzner. Bob was formative in my life in so many ways. One way, though, is that he played guitar and was singing songs that I had never heard before. They were unlike anything I had heard. Of course, they were Debbie's songs. There was nobody else making music like that. No minor keys? Uptempo? Without the organ? This was not just revolutionary, it was a whole new stage in my Jewish evolution. Since then, of course, the hundreds of songs became something of the soundtrack to my Jewish journeys.

Debbie's revolution was authentic because it came from her soul. She was exactly the right person in exactly the right place and time in Reform Judaism's development and, of course, in exactly the right movement. She did not just change the music of the movement; she changed its soul.

Her work laid the bedrock for the other artists to flourish. She was the Nachson ben Aminadav of Jewish music: not afraid to cross waters that had never been crossed and filled with enthusiasm (en-theos - filled with God). Because of her, every other movement looks to ours to see how music is done and incorporated into camps, services, youth groups and everyday living.

As a rabbi in the Reform movement, I am proud to say that Debbie found the fertile soil in which her music took root. But she also planted something in me, as well. She gave me the courage to seriously pick up my own guitar, took away the fear of singing in public, and made Judaism meaningful by framing it in a soundtrack that is part of my very bones.

Others will come and sing and share their soul. New music will be composed. There are artists out there that have yet to pick up their instrument or bless us with their voices. This happened because of Debbie. And for that, I am profoundly grateful.

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