Sisterhood Blog

Dinner with Debbie Friedman

By Melissa Langsam Braunstein

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Due to my husband’s long work hours, dinner at our house is often ladies night, adapted for the Mommy-and-Me set. Like any top chef, I start Lila’s meal with an amuse bouche. That is, I let Lila chomp on some Cheerios, while I design that night’s dinner menu. Sometimes Lila and I just chat over dinner — her comments made largely in Lilese — but on most nights, we have musical accompaniment.

When Lila began eating solids last fall, we listened to WFUV, my favorite New York radio station, then branched out to Pandora’s Raffi station. However, ever since my sister brought us a 2-CD set of Debbie Friedman classics in February, Friedman’s voice has been our go-to evening soundtrack.

I love that the CD opens with an up-tempo rendition of “L’cha Dodi”. Lila perks up when the opening chords play, recognizing that a favorite song is starting. I often dance to the beat and sing, while Lila bops back and forth in her high chair. We both clap along too.

Growing up, I learned most of these tunes, and words, at Solomon Schechter, but I didn’t remember they were Debbie Friedman’s. It turns out that so many of the songs I loved singing in choir — and even the version of “Oseh Shalom” that most successfully soothed Lila last year — were composed by Ms. Friedman.

“Not By Might, Not By Power” remains fantastic, and it’s even better when I hear Friedman sing it. I’m generally a stickler for getting words right — even if I often inadvertently rewrite a few, as I sing — but I realize that I never learned this song’s original lyrics. Rather than “shall all men live in peace,” we sang, “shall we all live in peace.” I’m partial to the latter version, but either way, I adore Friedman’s adaptation of Zechariah 4:6, conveying G-d’s intent to triumph through spirit, rather than by force.

The next song, “Im Tirtzu”, sets Theodor Herzl’s famous quotation to music and makes me want to belt out its Zionist message from our neighborhood’s treetops: “If you will it, it is no dream.” Friedman’s upbeat tune is irresistible. It was two decades since I’d last heard this song; the first few times I played it for Lila, I choked up while singing. In so many ways, this song encapsulates struggling to achieve big, meaningful things — both personally and as a people. It both ties me to my past and propels me toward my intended future. I can’t hear it without feeling inspired.

And then there are songs like “And the Youth Shall See Visions” that have become new favorites. We sang this at my eighth grade graduation. I dutifully recited the words about the old dreaming dreams and the youth seeing visions, but they meant little to me. Singing this particular song as a new mother, while gazing at my daughter in her high chair, I hear those same words in an entirely new way.

While I’m not yet old, I’m no longer the youth with my whole life ahead of me. It’s now my responsibility to help Lila prepare for her future, as well as preparing for my own. That shift in how I see myself and my role in the world has been a profound transition over the past year. And this song, which I considered too earnest and somewhat silly when I first learned it, now feels true. I finally understand why my teachers chose this song, and why they considered it so fitting, as we celebrated a transition point like graduation.

As Lila grows up, I hope she loves Friedman’s songs as much as I do. And I hope that they grow with her, as they have with me.


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