Who would want to go to Africa in June? The American Jewish World Service, that’s who, and the 30 people, myself included, who -- despite three connecting flights, the height of the rainy season, and temperatures in the 80s -- signed up for its Liberian study tour.
Hundreds of us – Jews of all ages, nationalities, sexual orientations, and backgrounds – moved in unison. Our right arms reached backwards towards the past, then we each moved both hand, reaching forward toward the future, grasping at it, and bringing it close to our hearts. Choreographer Liz Lerman led the group in a symbolic dance that expressed many of the feelings of the group as we celebrated the installation of incoming URJ President, Rabbi Rick Jacobs.
So, you know how there are tons of melodies for “Adon Olam?” You may not have ever thought about it before, but there are so many out there. Yes, each congregation may default to one or another, but the words to “Adon Olam” can be fit into many modern tunes. As rabbinical students in Jerusalem, we used to do a sing-down game where two teams would compete to see how many melodies to “Adon Olam” we could come up with (yes, this is what we did for fun).
Three years ago, singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman officially joined the faculty of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Sacred Music in New York. Now, that same school, which ordains Reform cantors, will bear her name.
I wish Debbie Friedman had been alive to hear what was said about her at her funeral.
A similar thought occurs to me when I attend other people's funerals but never did I feel it so acutely as I did this past Tuesday as I watched the live-streaming of Debbie's memorial service on-line along with seven thousand other people who, like me, were singing and crying at their desks, on their iPhones, in their living rooms, and sending messages to each other simultaneously of sorrow, comfort, and gratitude for her life.