Debbie Friedman, lesbian who composed prayer of healing used in service for Giffords, dies

Posted on 11 Jan 2011 at 5:10pm

Monday evening, as I drove home from work, I was listening to All Things Considered on KERA 90.1 radio. They were, as you would expect, talking about the shootings Saturday in Tucson. The announcer segued from one segment to another by noting that Congregation Chaverim, the reform synagogue of which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a member, had held a service in which they prayed for healing for the congresswoman injured in the assassination attempt.

Debbie Friedman

One of the prayers the congregation sang, the announcer said, was the Mi Shebeirach, a prayer for healing by Debbie Friedman, who translated the words and wrote the music. There was a particular line that really caught my attention: “May the source of strength, who blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing. And let us say Amen.”

That was, to me, such a beautiful piece of poetry that I posted it as my status on Facebook.

What made it even more poignant was the fact that Friedman died Sunday, Jan. 9, of complications from pneumonia. She was, according to The New York Times (free subscription), “credited with helping give ancient liturgy broad appeal to late-20th-century worshippers.”

That’s when my co-worker, David Taffet, stepped in to explain to me that Friedman was a lesbian, and that her music is very popular not only in Reform Judaism congregations, but also in some Conservative and Modern Orthodox congregations — and even, according to The New York Times, in some Christian congregations.

David also told me that Mi Shebeirach (though not necessarily Friedman’s version) started to become popular as a prayer of healing in Reform congregations with large LGBT memberships in the 1980s in response to the AIDS epidemic. (He also acknowledged that mainstream congregations might argue with that, but insisted he is right — as usual.) Not being Jewish nor ever having attended a Jewish service, I had never heard the prayer. And so it’s simple beauty really touched me when I heard Friedman singing it on the radio last night, especially since it was sung for Congresswoman Giffords and that Friedman had died the day after the congresswoman was shot.

So now, I have learned something new about my LGBT community. It’s just too bad, I think, that I learned it so late.

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