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

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.

—  admin

What’s Brewing: Dead birds and DADT repeal; gay shooting hero Daniel Hernandez; Chely Wright

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Whacko preacher Cindy Jacobs, founder of Red Oak-based Generals International, says the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” may be to blame for the recent bird and fish deaths in Arkansas. Others, however, have suggested that Jacobs’ wardrobe is the real culprit. In case you didn’t know, Red Oak is a little town in Ellis County, about a half hour south of Dallas on I-35. Here’s what Jacobs says in the video above: “Well, there’s something interesting we have been watching — let’s talk about this Arkansas pattern and say, could it be a pattern? We’re going to watch and see. But the blackbirds fell to the ground in Beebe, Arkansas. Well the Governor of Arkansas’ name is Beebe. And also, there was something put out of Arkansas called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by a former Governor, this was proposed, Bill Clinton. As so, could there be a connection between this passage [Hosea 4] and now that we’ve had the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, where people now legally in the United States have broken restraints with the Scripture because the Scripture says in Romans 1 that homosexuality is not allowed. It could be because we have said it’s okay for people who commit these kinds of acts to be recognized in our military for the first time in our history, there is a potential that there is something that actually happened in the land where a hundred thousand drum fish died and also where these birds just fell out of the air.”

2. The Los Angeles Times draws a comparison between Daniel Hernandez Jr., the gay intern who may have saved the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — and Oliver Sipple, a gay Marine who thwarted an assassination attempt against President Gerald in 1975. It’s sure nice to know that Instant Tea, which broke the story about Hernandez being gay, probably won’t be getting sued like the newspapers that revealed Sipple was gay. And the column is an excellent illustration of how what it means to be gay has changed so dramatically over the last 35 years. …

3. … But we’ve still got a ways to go. Country singer Chely Wright, who appeared at this year’s Black Tie Dinner in Dallas, says the perception that coming out has helped her career is flat out wrong. “My record sales went directly in half,” Wright says in a new interview with Autostraddle.com, adding that she’s also received death threats.

—  John Wright