According to the Times obituary, the 59-year-old Friedman had been ill for many years with a neurological condition. But that didn't stop her from becoming a major force in Jewish folk music (and one who was quite popular with our readers, judging by the number of emails we got about her death). Margalit Fox describes Friedman's work as "inclusive, progressive and strongly feminist," and quotes the singer's own explanation of what spurred her to make more participatory music:
One night I went to synagogue, and realized, sitting there, I was bored. I realized the rabbi was talking, the choir was singing and nobody was doing anything. There was no participation.
Friedman's songs revealed a concern for women and marginalized people, informed by her own experiences as an openly gay woman. They also helped energize the American Jewish community — says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, "Twenty-five years ago, North American Jews had forgotten how to sing. Debbie reminded us how to sing; she taught us how to sing." One of her songs, "The Promise," seems to encapsulate the spirit of her life. Friedman sang,
May you be blessed with understanding,
With wisdom and compassion in your heart.
May your tongue be filled with song,
And your lips sing out for justice.
These are the prayers we have for you.