Letters to the Editor: Debbie Friedman’s legacy

Dean Rosen , President, St. Louis PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)

Thank you for the beautiful obituary and celebration of the life and music of Debbie Friedman (Jan. 12). This simple, untrained folk singer left a legacy that will long remain in our synagogues and prayer services. Her “Mi Sheberach” was sung in Tucson this week for the critically ill Arizona Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. Sadly, this prayer for healing that Friedman left us for the ages could not save her – though it perhaps gave her the strength to persevere during a long chronic illness.

I posted the notice of her death on Facebook, with the caveat that she was “family.” A cousin wrote, wanting to know what I meant since she didn’t know of any relationship with the noted singer, whose songs she remembered so well from her years of Jewish summer camp. I told her that “family” was a code word for gay or lesbian, since many of my Facebook friends are members of the gay and lesbian community. Just as Jews always want to know if a celebrity is Jewish, gays and lesbians want to know too if people in the news are from their community. Her lengthy obituary in the New York Times noted, “Many of her English lyrics concerned the empowerment of women and other disenfranchised groups, stemming, her associates said on Monday, from the quiet pride she took in her life as a gay woman.”

I think it is important to share this part of Ms. Friedman’s identity at this moment in our cultural history when gays and lesbians are taking their place within our religion and the broader society. Think how much we would miss in contemporary Judaism without the contribution of this woman – this lesbian Jewish woman.

Dean Rosen

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President, St. Louis PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)