Friday, March 29, 2013
Tribute to Debbie
Dear Friends and Family:
At our Seder this week we read (as always) from The Song of Songs, "Arise my love, my fair one, and come away; For lo, the winter is past. Flowers appear on the earth." Well that is exactly what's happening and we are delighted to see the snows melt.
But this reading always reminds me of Debbie Freedman. She put the words to music and her melodies are with me, always. Here's a staff letter I wrote about her over twenty years ago. I miss her. We all do. We've got her songs in our hearts.
Dear G.U.C.I. Staff:
Sometimes I marvel at the power of music. In a very real sense it enhances and
helps us express our emotions. We remember times in our lives by the songs of
the day. Our music defines our generation. And as we camp people all know,
music has a unique power to bring people together, to unite us, and help us
express our feelings of belonging to one community.
Last night I took a magical mystery tour into a multi-generational musical
experience. I joined about thirty other religious school teachers for a
rainy/snowy bus ride down to Indiana University to hear and participate in a
Debbie Freedman concert. Multi-generational because most of the bus riders
were about my age, but waiting for us in the auditorium (unbeknownst to me)
were several camp staff members. They greeted me warmly and I felt happy that
they had taken the trouble to come and hear someone whom I think has been so
important to our camps and our movement.
It was magical as well because Debbie Freedman, a musical pioneer in her own
right, was one of the first to write modern Jewish folk music. She brought us
from "Hava Na Gila" to "Not By Might," from "Leaving On A Jetplane" to "Lechi
Lach." I'd be the last to say that we shouldn't sing "The old songs." But
Debbie Freedman writes the Jewish songs of our generation. Her songs are sung
in every camp and Reform synagogue in North America. What an impact she has
It was emotional for me as well. At one point, last night, she stopped to
acknowledge my presence in the audience. You see, in 1973 Debbie was a
counselor and song leader in my unit. She told the audience that I had been
her boss. I was indeed her Unit Head, but I'm not sure who was the boss.
Debbie was just finishing the music for her first album. She was quite a
phenomenon. She was pioneering new areas of Jewish music, and boy was it
exciting! She was a demanding songleader who knew exactly what she wanted. I
remember vividly how one day she stopped a special rehearsal of the entire camp
(we were learning her songs with all the harmonies in order to perform them for
ourselves in a gala musical tochnit erev) and when it was absolutely dead quiet
said to the entire group, "Klotz is not singing." She got my attention.
For me, it was very special that she would remember and remark about those
years we worked together in camp. And it was heartening to realize that we
continue to work toward the same goals today as we did then; she still creates
incredibly moving and educational Jewish music, songs of faith and peace,
prayers and lessons. And me? Well I'm still plugging away at camp too. The
evening was both nostalgic and inspirational. We'll sing Debbie Freedman's
songs for many years to come. And believe me, she'll never catch me with my
mouth shut at one of her song sessions again.