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January 20, 2011 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-01-20

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Remembering Debbie

FJA students learn more about the Jewish music of their lives.

Debra Darvick
Special to the Jewish News


FJA ninth-graders Sara Weinfeld, Danielle Keith, Jolie Goldberg and Zoe Soble with
Penny Steyer, second from right

he Frankel Jewish Academy
welcomed a special guest on
Jan. 14 when cantorial solo-
ist Penny Steyer of Temple Shir Shalom
in West Bloomfield participated in the
high school's Town Hall program, shar-
ing memories and music of Debbie
Friedman, whose recent death has sad-
dened the Jewish community worldwide.
Several area synagogues held special
services last Shabbat honoring Friedman
and featuring her music.
For FJA students who have grown up
singing Friedman's melodies, often without
knowing the composer, it was a morning
to recognize just how much of Friedman's
music is woven into their lives.
Steyer strummed chords from Freidman's
eponymous "Aleph Bet" song and, in reflex,


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Debbie Friedman, who died Jan. 9

more than 200 teenagers were suddenly back
in gan (nursery school), singing the song that
helped them master their Hebrew alphabet.
"Debbie started a revolution in syna-
gogues and for Jewish people all over the
world," Steyer told the students. "Her goal
was for you to find your own soul through
music. She never considered herself a good
singer or performer, but she changed the
face of Jewish music for the entire world.
"Debbie would say, 'Never sing a song if
you don't know the meaning of the words
of the song you are singing.' Debbie would
teach you Torah you through her music.
"She would paraphrase into English a
parshah from Torah so that those who didn't
speak Hebrew would have a sense of what
the Torah was saying, and connect."
When Steyer began singing "Miriam's
Song," students and teachers joined in
"Who of you is the next composer of
Jewish music who will change the Jewish
world?" Steyer asked when the room quieted
again. "Eighteen years ago, Debbie created
Hava Nashira [the annual song-leading
and music workshop of the Olin Sang Ruby
Union Institute and the Union for Reform
Judaism.] There is a special track for stu-
dents who want to be song leaders at camp."
Steyer ended her visit with the song for
which Friedman is perhaps best known —
"Mi Shebeirach."
"Many of us around the country knew
she was struggling and we sang the `Mi
Sheberach' for her:' Steyer said. "Our
prayers weren't enough. And so we decided
to sing her soul so she would go up with
the angels." Fl

rubbed bronze,

brushed nickel and

Debra Darvick handles communications for the

Starlight* chrome.

Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield.


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January 20 . 2011

Penny Steyer of Temple Shir Shalom

with FJA Head of School Rabbi Eric

1920 - 2010



1 G4 0 2 00

Grossman and Bible teacher Rabbi
Azaryah Cohen

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