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Etrogcello, part 2

A kaddish for Debbie

At shacharit (morning services) last Sunday morning, my dear friend David Rachmiel told us that he had very sad news to impart. Voice shaking, he told us that Debbie Friedman had died only a few hours before. The room was plunged into silence and sorrow. Somehow we all wound up in a circle with our arms around one another, singing Debbie's "Kaddish D'Rabanan."

(If you can't see the embedded video, you can go directly to it here on YouTube. The version of the song I found on YouTube has a funky beat and a lot of instrumentation; we sang it often at Ohalah, a cappella.)

For our teachers and their students
And for the students of their students
We ask for peace and lovingkindness, and let us say: Amen.
And for those who study Torah here and everywhere
May they be blessed with all they need, and let us say: Amen.
We ask for peace and lovingkindness, and let us say: Amen!
We ask for peace and lovingkindness, and let us say: Amen!
We ask for peace and lovingkindness, and let us say: Amen...

The kaddish d'rabanan (also known as the "scholar's kaddish") is a variation on the kaddish (the prayer which magnifies and sanctifies the name of God and which acts as a "gate" between different sections of the service -- and which is also recited by mourners.) In this version of the prayer -- which is recited after Torah study -- there's an extra paragraph which translates to basically what Debbie's rendered above. The Aramaic is notoriously tricky for those who aren't accustomed to the words, but her English is clear and singable. I'd never heard her version before this Ohalah. By the end of the conference we'd sung it so often I knew it by heart.

I wasn't blessed to know Debbie in life, but I've known her music for as long as I can remember: her tune for the havdalah blessings, her Mi Sheberach (prayer for healing), her dual setting for Elohai Neshama and Asher Yatzar (the prayers for body and for soul.) It seems to me that she had a particular genius for taking traditional texts and rendering them in English and in melody in a way which would be accessible and meaningful to those who heard (and, ideally, learned to sing) what she had scored.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shirah (the Shabbat of Song) when we read the Song of the Sea, that beautiful Torah portion which is laid out on the scroll like lattice. This year at my shul we'll be celebrating Shabbat Shirah in a different way as well: by singing and cherishing the songs which Debbie Friedman gave over to us, with gratitude. After our Shabbat morning Torah study we recite the kaddish d'rabanan in Aramaic, and with that one tricky/unfamiliar paragraph in English. This week I hope to sing Debbie's melody instead. I'm sorry for our collective loss, but so glad to have her music as her legacy.