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September 5, 2015 | 21st Elul 5775

Taia Hartman, Temple Chai, Long Grove, IL

In a country and an era where many people grow up with no real feelings or commitment to their parents' religion, Debbie Friedman's music helped me to grow up feeling connected to something much larger than myself.

It was her songs and melodies that were sung in children's services, in Sunday school and later in Hebrew school as well. I never heard her name until years later when I went to OSRUI, but I knew the songs.

Friedman wrote so many songs and melodies that became integral parts of reform Jewish services and identity. It wasn't just that they were fun to sing, or that most people could sing them, or even that they were pretty. It was because they spoke to something inside of us and reached out to us and invited us to embrace our Jewish community. Debbie Friedman's songs aren't meant to be sung alone - they are meant to be sung with other people.

No melody is more communal than the Havdalah prayers. It has been my favorite service since my first Saturday night at OSRUI more than ten years ago. It is also the service that comes to mind most often when I think of truly holy moments in my life. For that gift, and for the connection I feel to my faith and my people, I thank Debbie Friedman from the bottom of my heart. She was truly an extraordinary woman, and I will remember her every time I sing her songs as the most influential person in my life.

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