Nearly one thousand guests of all generations packed the sanctuary at Central Synagogue for “An Evening with Debbie & Friends” – a concert celebrating the creativity of world-renowned folk songwriter and performer Debbie Friedman – and raised $450,000 to benefit Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and its School of Sacred Music (SSM). The concert on Thursday, November 12, featured the music of Debbie Friedman performed by Debbie Friedman, the Afro-Semitic Experience, HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir, The Western Wind, Alumni, Faculty, Students, and surprise guests. Honorary Celebrity Co-Chairs were Jason Robert Brown, Mandy Patinkin, and Paul Schaffer. Concert Co-chairs were Barbara Friedman and Bonnie Tisch. Benefit Committee Co-Chairs were Marjorie and Morgan Miller.
Rabbi David Ellenson set the tone for the evening in his welcoming remarks: “We celebrate Debbie Friedman, an esteemed member of our faculty, who is strengthening HUC-JIR’s role in the area of worship renewal and revitalization in our day. She inspires and helps to guide our students’ spiritual and leadership development, and provides them with innovative strategies to transform congregations into communities of meaning." In 2007 HUC-JIR took a transformative step – Debbie Friedman became a member of the faculty, enabling the SSM to broaden its vision and expand its curriculum to include varied musical genres from classical hazzanut to the contemporary folk idiom, making it more relevant to the diverse needs of today’s congregations.
The School of Sacred Music (SSM) at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York is the only Reform Jewish cantorial school in North America and the nation’s oldest institution dedicated to training cantors. Since its founding in 1948, at a time when the Holocaust had nearly severed the continuity of the Jewish people’s cultural heritage, the SSM has trained 451 cantors who serve communities throughout North America, Israel and around the world. Among these alumni are the 193 women cantors who have graduated from the cantorial program since 1975, when HUC-JIR invested the first woman cantor in history. A rigorous five-year program leading to the degree of Master of Sacred Music includes a first year of study at HUC-JIR’s Jerusalem School, followed by four years at the New York campus featuring intensive Judaic, Hebrew, music, musicology, and liturgy studies, vocal and professional development, internships, pastoral care and counseling field work, and performance.
HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir, comprised of nearly one hundred teenagers from throughout the metropolitan New York area, joined Debbie in rousing renditions of “La h’hudim Hay’ta Ora”, “Hafoch Bah”, “Oseh Shalom”, “One People”, and “Lech Lecha”. The participation of these young people symbolized Debbie’s impact on multiple generations since the release of her first CD in 1972.
This concert launched HUC-JIR’s Cantorial Invest-in-a-Student Campaign, headed by Cantor Claire Franco. Cantorial alumni are supporting the education of their emerging colleagues and successors through this initiative in which donors sponsor students for their five years of study at HUC-JIR, from the Year-in-Israel through investiture. These scholarships are an essential means of encouraging students with the highest academic and musical standards, and most passionate commitment to Judaism, to become the Jewish cantorial leaders of the future. Scholarships assist students to overcome financial obstacles – undergraduate debt, family obligations for second career students, and limited resources –and enable those aspiring to careers of Jewish musical leadership to embark upon lives of service to the Jewish people.
Debbie Friedman, the world-renowned, is Instructor in Music at the School of Sacred Music at HUC-JIR/New York. Friedman’s lyrical interpretations of liturgy and biblical verse have reached a generation of Jews looking to connect to the words of their heritage through music. A singer, songwriter, and guitarist, she has recorded 19 albums, including many songs that have become so much a part of many synagogues’ liturgy as to be considered “traditional.”
Friedman is enriching the fabric of student life by teaching “Music as Midrash,” a course for rabbinical, cantorial, and education students that explores the spiritual core of Jewish texts as a source for songs, sermons, and study. In addition, she serves as Artist-in-Residence, coaches cantorial students, and participates in worship services and other areas of the School of Sacred Music curriculum. The students in all programs at the Cincinnati and Los Angeles campuses also benefit from her presence as visiting instructor during the course of the academic year.
In 1996 Friedman celebrated the 25th anniversary of her musical career with a concert at Carnegie Hall. She has performed in hundreds of cities in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Israel, and has appeared before national conventions and conferences for major Jewish organizations and particularly the Reform Movement, including the Union for Reform Judaism, National Association of Temple Educators, National Association of Temple Administrators, Central Conference of American Rabbis,Women of Reform Judaism,World Union for Progressive Judaism, and National Federation of Temple Youth. She served as cantorial soloist for three years at the New Reform Congregation in Los Angeles, California. As a music educator, she directed the music component of the intensive Hebrew Chalutzim program at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, where she continues to co-lead Hava Nashira, the annual song leading and music workshop she created. She has served on the faculty of HUC- JIR’s Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health, and the Union for Reform Judaism’s summer Kallah programs held at Brandeis University, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Franklin Pierce College.
The School of Sacred Music, founded in 1948, dedicated itself as a guarantor that the musical traditions of the past would survive and be enhanced by the creativity of new generations. With a mission to teach, preserve, and promote Jewish liturgical music and train cantors for the Reform Movement and the Klal Yisrael, the SSM gathered a distinguished faculty, began publishing out-of-print classics, and established an academic and cultural center for Jewish music with the Hazzan – the Cantor – at its center.
Today, the SSM advances the evolving and growing role of cantors in congregational life. As schlichai tzibbur – leaders of prayer and composers of liturgical poetry and song – these men and women express the spirituality of their congregations; as clergy, they provide pastoral care; and as Jewish educators, they engage the multigenerational community and strengthen Jewish learning and continuity. Upon investiture as cantors, alumni are eligible for membership in the American Conference of Cantors, an affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism.
The SSM continues to publish Jewish musical liturgical classics, and conserves and makes available the rare music holdings of the Klau Library, one of the largest and most comprehensive Jewish libraries in the world housing the largest collection of printed Judaica in America. Among the treasures of the Klau Library is The Eduard Birnbaum Collection acquired by HUC-JIR in 1918. The Birnbaum Collection contains the world’s only copies of Jewish musical scores written before 1840 and includes Birnbaum’s catalog listing all melodies and synagogal songs printed or written in Europe between 1700 and 1910.
Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is the nation's oldest institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and communal service professionals, and offers graduate and post-graduate programs to scholars of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise renowned library and museum collections, the American Jewish Archives, biblical archaeology excavations, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. HUC-JIR invites the community to an array of cultural and educational programs which illuminate Jewish history, identity, and contemporary creativity and which foster interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu