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Debbie Friedman was certainly one of the most popular creators of Jewish music, given her prolific output of recordings, the extremely spiritual content of her compositions, and her innovative dabbling in self-publishing. She was also a teacher and cantor at the New Reform Congregation in Los Angeles, CA, and directed the music program at the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowac, WI, creating an annual songleading and music workshop there entitled Hava Nashira. Her involvement with various educational institutions produced an extensive series of credits. Friedman's spiritually driven ambition seemed to have no limits, leading her to projects as ambitious as the direction of a 300-person chorale.
Friedman's original musical influences came from the American popular folk music scene of the '60s and '70s, including big names such as Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell. Thus, two musical aspects that are distinctly non-Jewish, the influence of both Appalachian and country & western music, impacted the Friedman sound that has had a massive influence on younger Jewish singers and songwriters. The Friedman song repertoire is basically fully integrated into much of the American synagogue liturgy, to the point that in many congregations it is considered traditional. Jewish children commonly grow up learning the Hebrew alphabet from Friedman songs, which are used in churches, schools, camps and community centers. This material has been extensively licensed on recordings, videos, songbooks, prayer books, haggadahs, textbooks, teaching manuals, children's books, healing publications, new rituals, and self-help books, not to mention Internet websites.
One hardly has to enter a synagogue in order to encounter Friedman, in other words. The Hallmark company marketed a series of greeting cards based on her lyrics, yet this sort of tasteful merchandising scheme was not the heart of her musical activity. This would have to be her emotionally stirring concerts, in which she appeared both solo and with the backing of a trio. While she often performed at the national conventions of major Jewish organizations, she also appeared at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, where she recorded a live CD in 1996. "Mi Shebeirach," a song of healing, is one of the most beautiful numbers that have appeared on some 20 Friedman releases. Suffering from a neurological disorder from the 1990s onward, Debbie Friedman nevertheless remained active and an inspiration to many during the first decade of the new millennium. She died from pneumonia on January 9, 2011 in Orange County, CA at 59 years of age.
Deborah Lynn "Debbie" Friedman (February 23, 1951 – January 9, 2011) was an American singer-songwriter concerning Jewish religious content. She was born in Utica, New York, but moved with her family to Minnesota at age 5. She is best known for her setting of "Mi Shebeirach", the prayer for healing, which is used by hundreds of congregations across America. Her songs were used by some Orthodox Jewish congregations, as well as non-Orthodox Jewish congregations. Ms. Friedman was a feminist, and Orthodox Jewish feminist Blu Greenberg noted that while Ms. Friedman’s music impacted most on Reform and Conservative liturgy, "she had a large impact [in] Modern Orthodox shuls, women’s tefillah [prayer], the Orthodox feminist circles.... She was a religious bard and angel for the entire community."
Debbie was the daughter of Freda and Gabriel Friedman.
She wrote many of her early songs as a song leader at the overnight camp Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, in the early 1970s. Between 1971 and 2010 she recorded 22 albums. Her work was inspired by such diverse sources as Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, and a number of other folk music artists. Friedman employed both English and Hebrew lyrics and wrote for all ages. Some of her songs include "The Aleph Bet Song", "Miriam's Song", and the songs "Not By Might" and "I am a Latke". She also performed in synagogues and concert halls.
Friedman had suffered since the 1990s from a neurological condition, with effects apparently similar to multiple sclerosis. The story of her music, as well as the challenges she faced in living with illness, were featured in a 2004 documentary film about Friedman called A Journey of Spirit, produced by Ann Coppel, which followed her from 1997 to 2002.
In 2007, Friedman accepted an appointment to the faculty of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's School of Sacred Music in New York (now called the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music) where she instructed both rabbinic and cantorial students.
In 2010, she was named to the Forward 50 after the release of her 22nd album As You Go On Your Way: Shacharit – The Morning Prayers.
Friedman was a lesbian but thought her sexuality was irrelevant to her work and did not talk about it in public. Her obituary in the New York Times was thus the first time her sexual identity was publicized.
Death and legacy 
She was admitted to an Orange County Hospital in January of 2011, where she died January 9th, 2011, from pneumonia.
Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, announced on January 27th, 2011 that the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's School of Sacred Music would be renamed the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. On December 7th, 2011, it was officially renamed as such.