Sisterhood Blog

Questioning Debbie Friedman's Private Life

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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I am disgusted by what someone who goes by “DLevy” has written about Debbie Friedman on the Jewschool blog, breaching basic standards of dignity and respect, and what people are sending around the Twitterverse. As Debbie’s funeral is livestreamed, people watching and posting comments are conjecturing about whether her partner will be named.

I’ve been asked to respond to this, or else never would have discussed it publicly, because Debbie would not have wanted her personal life bandied about. The privacy and dignity with which she lived her life – all aspects of her life – should be respected, not tossed aside to satisfy someone else’s prurient curiosity or politics.

Debbie was not in the closet. Neither did she ride floats at a gay pride parade. She was, quite simply, a private person. She did not shout from the rooftops. She responded to alienation and injustice through the music she wrote that changed the way we pray.

DLevy wrote:

I didn’t know Debbie personally. But as someone who’s been a leader in the Jewish GLBT world for a number of years, I’ve heard persistent stories about her life as a lesbian. It seems that Debbie’s sexuality was an open secret; everybody knew about it, but no one spoke of it. This made me angry. Was she ashamed?

With remarkable arrogance, DLevy continued:

I don’t bear any ill-will towards Debbie for staying in the closet. But her life in the closet was double-barreled tragedy: how sad that Debbie could not live her life with wholeness, and how sad that so many queer kids were deprived such an important role model. How ironic that the tyranny of the closet overpowered the woman whose songs let us let go for a moment of what the world might think of us…my friends who knew Debbie tell me that she had a life-partner. I don’t know her partner’s name, because all the press around Debbie’s illness and passing only asked for prayers and comfort on behalf of Debbie’s sister, family and friends. I hope this did not add to the unbearable pain and loss her partner must be experiencing now, but how could it not?

Unless someone is legislating discrimination against gays and lesbians, or sermonizing from a pulpit against homosexuality, and is actually gay, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business unless they want to share it.

Debbie lived her life with authenticity and dignity, all the more remarkable because of the challenges she endured.

There are responsible people, including Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg and Ben Murane, on Jewschool’s editorial staff and committee. None of them should have allowed this to be posted.


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