At a memorial tribute to Debbie Friedman at Central Synagogue on January 27, 2011, Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, made the following announcement:
“A beloved member of our faculty since 2007, Debbie Friedman, z”l, inspired our students through her creativity and musical talents, helped guide their spiritual and leadership development, and provided them with innovative strategies to transform congregations into communities of learning and meaning. Our students were blessed by her devotion, and our faculty was enriched by her gifts and talents. Her words and her music will live on and shape the world of prayer in our synagogues and in the larger Jewish community for this and future generations.
Generous friends of the College-Institute have made possible the endowment of the HUC-JIR School of Sacred Music to ensure that the mission of the SSM – to provide the finest cantorial education across a full range of liturgical and musical styles -- will receive permanent support. This endowment has been made out of deep love and friendship for Debbie Friedman and to honor her singular contributions to religious worship, spiritual renewal, and the Jewish people. The School of Sacred Music will now bear her name and will henceforth be called The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music. We are profoundly grateful for this act of genuine hesed (true loving kindness) in memory of our beloved Debbie.
Since its founding in 1948, the School of Sacred Music has been marked by academic and musical excellence, and the School has educated its students in the total breadth and depth of the cantorial tradition. Our pluralistic faculty, representing many different streams of Judaism, has exposed our students to the widest range of traditional nusach, musical styles, and professional skills. We can now confidently assert that our school will continue to do so as the College-Institute fulfills its ongoing sacred mission of producing “sweet singers in Israel,” cantors who will elevate and awaken the souls and spirits of the Jewish people b’chol mekomot moshvoteinu – within the synagogue and beyond in all our places of habitation.”
HUC-JIR’s School of Sacred Music was established in 1948, when the destruction of the Holocaust threatened the continuity of Jewish musical heritage. As the cantorial school for the Reform Movement, it has invested 462 cantors since 1948, including 202 women since 1975, and has flourished as an international center dedicated to preserving, enhancing, and creating Jewish music. The five-year curriculum, leading to a Master’s in Sacred Music and Investiture as Cantor, provides an integrated approach to liturgical music in both the Reform repertoire and traditional nusach, along with liturgy and modal theory for Shabbat, High Holy Days, Festivals, and Life Cycles. Students study musicianship, guitar, piano, conducting, composition, and arranging; Judaica and text courses in Bible, Midrash, Philosophy, and History; and professional development courses in education, pastoral counseling, and music technology; with the option of taking an additional year of coursework in order to earn a Master of Arts in Religious Education. The cantorial program begins with a first year of study in Jerusalem, alongside stateside first-year rabbinical and education students and Israeli rabbinical, education, and pastoral counseling students. The next four years of study are completed at the New York campus, where students combine full-time professional learning with student-cantor internships in congregations.