Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

New 12th Gate – Celebrating Debbie Friedman

Posted by John Montgomery on January 16, 2011

The faith world lost a troubadour and spiritual leader this week.  Debbie Friedman, self-described child of the 60s set Hebrew prayers to folk-style music and changed the singing tradition in the Jewish world forever. As a feminist, she was viewed as a threat to tradition in the 70s, but Debbie helped enliven the singing tradition in Judaism.  Eventually, with performances in Carnegie hall and liturgical leadership at Hebrew Union College, Debbie Friedman’s music became standard in Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations and crossed over to some Orthodox and Christian groups.  

Debbie Friedman – Jewish Songwriter

She was born in Utica, New York. She was the daughter of Frida and Gabriel Friedman. She 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. 

In the last week, many tributes have emerged. I was drawn into this one by the many wonderful pictures. Let me walk to a land that I will show you…

The New York Times, one of the few publications that mentioned that she was gay, wrote, “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.”   Jewish and LGBT communities are discussing how much to make of her choice to not be publicly out as gay. Those who knew her well feel like her need for privacy should be respected, even in death.  Jonathan Mark, in The Jewish Week, felt that after the New York Times identified her as gay, he would share her comments from a 2008 interview.  Debbie said, “I’m thinking, more than people need me to come out as a gay person, they need me to come out as a liturgist and a spiritualist. People are more uptight talking about God, more inhibited about God language and God concepts, than they are about sex.”

Maybe this is what she might be talking about!

As long as we are having fun – Adam Sandler would be proud of this.

Friedman had suffered since the 1990s from a neurological condition, with effects apparently similar to multiple sclerosis.[5]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 where she instructed both rabbinic and cantorial students.

She was admitted to an Orange County Hospital in January 2011, where she died January 9, 2011, from pneumonia.

In closing, let me share her wonderful rendition of God turns mourning into dancing. It is interesting, until I had actually read the words last week, what I had in ,y mind was morning into dncing. This is so much better.

Links:  A Journey of the Spirit

From the Union For Reformed Jusaiasm – Funeral and Tributes

* * * * * * *

The New 12th Gate is a virtual coffee house. Currently, we are undergoing renovati0n, but when occasions emerge like this one, we will open as needed.


2 Responses to “New 12th Gate – Celebrating Debbie Friedman”

  1. Pete Schoen said

    There was a coffeehouse called the 12th gate in Atlanta from roughly 1966 to 1974. It was originally a youth activity folky thing run as an adjunct to Grace Methodist Church.The youth minister was named Bruce Donnelly. In 1967 he took a leave from Grace and opened the gate as a full time business on 10th st. It was loosely under the umbrella of the Methodist Inner City Ministry. It featured local folk acts and sponsored a free medical clinic as well as other activities. Later on,it moved from folk music to rock,being an early venue for groups such as the Allman brothers. The somewhat loose church connection lasted up until late 1970 when the management changed and the Gate became an independent music venue. Due to the size of the building more than anything else it became more difficult to compete with larger arenas and the Gate closed sometime in mid 1974.
    I was the first business manager from 1968-1970.For the rest of it’s existance it was run by Joe Roman and Robin Feld. Both of them are now deceased.

  2. John Montgomery said


    Thanks for the note. Indeed, New gate is built on the original. Bruce is a dear friend. I hope to get this reopened soon. It has kind of been fun.

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