Debbie Friedman is in an Orange County hospital on a respirator and in a medically-induced coma, and so people around the world are singing for her what she’s given us for decades: the Misheberech (another version here, with words), the Hebrew prayer for healing which Friedman, the most important voice in Jewish music in the last 30 years, wrote into a song of vital importance to thousands of people.
I’m one of those people. Through my breast cancer, surgeries and chemotherapy for 14 months, every Friday night at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center as well as some other synagogues, people sang the Misherech for me. If I was there, friends would reach out to my shoulder or lean into me and smile as they sang. If I wasn’t, they would still call out my name as well as the names of others needing healing.
My connection with Friedman’s music began decades earlier, back at Camp Kutz, the NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth — a huge organization for reform Jewish teens) headquarters in upstate New York where song leaders such as Friedman led us in their original interpretations of prayer, often mixing Hebrew and English. I sang out with my all my heart, even if off-tune, on “Not by Might and Not by Power,” “Sing Unto God” and many other Friedman songs, and it’s likely I even met her at one point. I played my compilation of Friedman and other song leaders’ music day and night through my late teens, and still, when faced with a challenging situation, will find myself humming or singing these songs, the talismans of my life.
Now I’m thinking of Debbie Friedman’s life, of how much she not only wrote and created, but performed at camps, concert halls, conferences and synagogues. I’m thinking of teens breaking through their usual self-consciousness to sing with abandon, and what a gift such an experience is, and how lucky I was to receive that gift. I’m singing the Misheberich for Debbie Friedman, and asking you to sing it too, even if you don’t know the words. Just sing whatever your heart tells you is a prayer for healing. To learn more, visit her website, where she writes:
It is a strange thing that pain creates beauty and potential for healing. It is hard to imagine that it can provide a foundation for beautiful moments to arise. We attempt to find a way to manage survival from one minute to the next, as pain becomes the overriding force. When we are experiencing emotional discomfort, we need to find a safe place to express our grief and loss.
The willingness to both offer and receive blessings of healing and well-being allows one who is wounded to transform and unravel their pain. Our pain need not bury us, instead it may elevate us to the point of healing – if we choose to allow it.
It is with this concept in mind that the Mi Shebeirach, the prayer for healing, which is a concise English translation of the traditional prayer, is now available for you to download. For those who know it and use it, use it in good health. Use it for yourselves, for others, and for those in your lives who do not know it, but may need it.