by Karen Humphrey
It was January 9, 2011. I was sitting at my computer, shocked and saddened, as I read the announcement that Debbie Friedman had died. Like many, I felt as if I’d lost a friend and the world was a little darker. I joined with a virtual multitude that night as I tuned in for a healing-service-turned-memorial that was broadcast online from the JCC in Manhattan. I joined with another virtual multitude just two days later when her funeral was also broadcast online. My heart ached and I mourned for the passing of someone whom I’d never met, yet knew so well through her music.
It wasn’t enough for me just to be a mourning spectator. I felt a need to do something. I wanted to pull together a tribute to her life and music. And I tried. Our congregation was being lay-led at the time, our rabbi being on vacation in Israel. I got the blessing of the lay leader to do it if I could get someone to come in and lead it (we didn’t have a guitar player or song leader). I spent a few days working on it, before it became clear that it just wasn’t going to happen for us on short notice. In the end, I had to abandon my efforts. So I went to Austin instead, where I knew a congregation that was planning to do the type of tribute service I was hoping for. I’m glad I did. It was what I needed at the time.
That Shabbat was Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song. Many congregations chose to honor Debbie that week at their services, and fittingly so. That Shabbat is now forever linked to her memory.
It’s been two years since we lost Debbie. It still saddens me to think about it. There will be no more concerts, no more new songs.
But yet, she’s not really gone.
Karen Humphrey is a member of Temple Rodef Sholom in Waco, TX, where she currently serves as a Board Trustee and the Chair of the Ritual Committee.