In the aftermath of the Tucson tragedy that took six lives and shattered dozens more, and as we wait to see if Rep. Gabby Giffords recovers, Jewish singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman died. She was in a medicine-induced coma as a result of a long illness. Meanwhile, Giffords recovers — I hope — while being held in a medicine-induced coma. Jewish identity was important to both women, but neither was divided away from the rest of world because of her beliefs and culture.
All day, Friedman’s song “Not by Might and Not by Power” runs through my mind because of its simply chorus, carrying an old testament phrase in new language: “Not by might and not by power. By spirit alone, shall all live in peace.” I remember singing that song 35 years ago with my local synagogue youth group in central New Jersey, and how at the very end, we yelled out, “Ruah!”, the Hebrew word for “spirit.” Now I scan the web for photos of people holding candles in the darkness, and read updates on Giffords and others connected with this tragedy, which was incited by the language of hatred, which is always the language of division. Debbie Friedman’s music consistently did the opposite with songs like “MiSheberech,” which unified people in calling for healing, and “L’chi Lach,” which calls us together to journey to a new land of greater peace. But it wasn’t just the words: she devoted her life to gathering people together in song, which is a kind of language always about unity, and therefore, about love.
It’s long past time to find our way back to the language of love, even and especially when speaking with people who believe totally different views on issues than we do. We make out way into such conversations not by might or power, but truly, by spirit along. It takes great awareness and courage to stop polarizing, whether you’re a Palin-Tea Party supporter or someone like me, who believes still in the promise of Obama and the greatly-damaged and corrupted democratic process. Even writing this, I realize how it’s hard to speak of people with vividly different views without putting them in one box, myself in another.
I don’t mean to suggest it’s easy or even possible to reach across these divides, but in memory of Debbie Friedman and so many others who showed us ways to cross over, it’s clear to me how much we need to keep trying anyway. I’m thinking of how best I can do this more expansively in my heart and life. Meanwhile, I have this example from Debbie of “Turning Mourning into Dancing.”
Second helpings: Sing the MisSheberich for Debbie Friedman