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Jewish folk singer Debbie Friedman dies

Debbie Friedman

Debbie Friedman Photo Credit: Undated / Handout

Debbie Friedman, the Jewish folk singer whose music was heard and sung by congregations around the world, was scheduled to perform Sunday in Glen Cove before a fatal bout of pneumonia struck her last week.

Friedman died Sunday in Southern California. She was in her late fifties, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

"She's a pioneer in Jewish music and her music is found not just in the liberal Reform movement and not just in United States but throughout the world," said Rabbi Alan Kay of East Meadow. "She was a great soul."

Kay knew Friedman through his wife, Jo, with whom Friedman taught at the New York campus of Hebrew Union College. In March, that connection brought Friedman to his synagogue, Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai, where she performed in a program honoring the retiring rabbi.

"She was willing to come out to Mount Sinai to visit a small congregation in order to share her music and to inspire others," Kay said.

When Kay was stricken with lung cancer soon after, Friedman, who has released more than 20 albums of cantorial music, helped create a healing service for him.

Friedman was best known for her composition "Mi Shebeirach," a prayer for healing that is sung in many North American congregations.

"It is a strange thing that pain creates beauty and potential for healing," Friedman wrote on her website. "It is hard to imagine that it can provide a foundation for beautiful moments to arise."

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum of Temple Israel in Lawrence expressed sorrow at Friedman's passing and compared her music to "a great sermon."

"A great sermon is one that addresses the issues people want to and need to hear," Rosenbaum said. "Her music encompassed just that. It wasn't sophisticated in the classical sense of the term, but it was soulful.

"It was gospel music of the synagogue."

Kay said Friedman, whom he said for years suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, regularly appeared at Long Island synagogues and Jewish events when she was based in New York City.

She recently moved to California to be closer to her family, Kay said.

Friedman was to appear Sunday at a leadership training institute for local Jewish leaders at the Glen Cove Mansion Hotel and Conference Center, Kay said. But she was forced to cancel when she fell ill last week.

"She was an extraordinary singer who wove together traditional and contemporary music," Kay said. "Her music has had a profound impact. It is really world Jewry that has lost an extraordinary voice."

- With Jennifer Barrios and Will Van Sant

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