I hadn’t spoken to Debbie Friedman in many weeks and had only seen her once since she moved back to California. Still, I had to try. I sent her an email asking if she was coming to New York anytime soon, that I needed her. Ten minutes later, she emailed me back. “Is it Deb?” she asked. I’ll never know how she remembered that my cousin, whom she had seen at many Healing Services that she and I led together at the JCC in Manhattan, was ill. I’ll never know how she knew that my cousin was dying. I only know that everyone who knew Debbie has a story like this.
She got on a plane about four weeks ago and came to New York. Despite the fact that she was struggling herself physically, she came up to Mamaroneck and led an exquisite healing service for 70 people in my cousin’s living room. My cousin was fully present for the service — her sons and husband and father held tightly by her music, her spirit and the community in the room that felt so grateful to be there and give voice to their love.
My cousin Deb died four days later. Debbie was already in England singing her heart out to thousands of people gathered for Limmud. Though I emailed her my gratitude, I know that there are no words to express the gift she gave our family that day. Perhaps it was her last healing service. I understood that day that real healing comes from generosity and open-heartedness. It comes from showing up and being fully present to the vulnerability of the person in front of you. That day, and on so many days for so many people all over the world, it came from Debbie Friedman’s heart. And she shall be a blessing.
Rabbi Joy Levitt is the executive director of the JCC in Manhattan, where she co-led healing services with Debbie Friedman for five years.