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And I'll sing my soul to You

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01/14/2011

It was 1997, my senior year of college, one of the scariest times in my life. I felt like I was supposed to suddenly become someone successful. My brothers had graduated several years before me; one went on to work at a big accounting firm, the other to medical school. My parents were married by the time they graduated college. What was to become of me? I felt lost and in between achieving my goals and unclear what my goals actually were.

I was a college journalist, devoted to the college student newspaper and then to freelance writing for a mid-size newspaper. Every week or so I would get a rejection letter for a job at a newspaper or a magazine that I dreamt of working at and would feel crushed. I was even rejected from Teach For America! Also, I was in a relationship with someone my parents stupidly didn’t approve of and he was becoming more and more disinterested in any kind of future with me and for sure my family. My Bubbie who I loved very much had died after suffering from Parkinson’s disease. I was gaining weight and struggling with eating issues and other health problems. It was just not an easy time for me.

During that same year, the General Assembly of what is now the Jewish Federations of North America was held in Indianapolis, Indiana. I have no idea what prompted me to attend this national meeting of Jewish communal professionals. I think I went there under the guise of journalism, and published my first front page article with a quote by then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying every Jew was welcome in Israel, where I write this post from now.

At some point after she had performed at this convention, I ended up buying a Debbie Friedman’s Songs of the Spirit Musical Anthology CD. I knew Debbie Friedman’s basic liturgical music from camp; as a pre-teen, I would sing the Friedman’s V’ahavta before bed to soothe myself to sleep and to pray, just as my grandmother had sung the Shema to me before bed. But I was unfamiliar with the rest of her songs.

So as I drove back and forth to the GA from Indianapolis to Bloomington, about an hour drive in the dark, I listened to this new Debbie Friedman CD. While I have always struggled with the notion of spirituality, I can truly say that she soothed my soul.

I kept my Debbie Friedman music to myself. I just didn’t think my friends who were into grunge music would get it, nor the friends reconnecting spiritually through music like the Moshav Band. To be honest, I didn’t totally get my sudden interest in Debbie Friedman myself, and I do not think one person knew I listened to those CDs dozens of times, as I did.

The song that I played over and over again was “You are the One.” I played it during those trips from Indianapolis to Bloomington and later in the year from Bloomington to South Bend and Bloomington to Chicago, after more personal rejections and more professional ones.

After college, I participated in Project Otzma and it was a great experience for me. Professionally, my life blossomed.

Interesting enough, in more recent years I met Debbie Friedman at my friends Shannon Millenthal and Joe Dressler’s wedding in Columbus. It was, again, another difficult time. I had gone through a devastating break up and was trying to be joyful for my friends while I felt total misery.

We met at the bar, and as she ordered a beverage, hopefully without seeming too stalkerish, I told her how much her music meant to me. She nodded graciously and I realized my words would never be able to communicate just how much her music had given me solace. So I hope that I can better communicate that to my readers with this post and by introducing you to this song that I played over and over.

You are the One, for this I pray,
That I may have the strength to be alone
To see the world, to stand among the trees,
And all the living things.
That I may stand alone, and offer prayers and talk to You
You are the One to whom I do belong
And I'll sing my soul, I'll sing my soul to You
And give You all that's in my heart.
May all the foliage of the field,
All grasses, trees and plants,
Awaken at my coming, this I pray,
And send their life into my words of prayer
So that my speech, my thoughts and my prayers will be made whole,
And through the spirit of all growing things
And we know that everything is one,
Because we know that everything is You.
You are the One, for this pray
I ask You, God, to hear my words
That pour out from my heart; I stand before You;
I, like water, lift my hands to You in prayer.
And grant me strength, and grant me strength to stand alone
You are the One to whom I do belong
And I'll sing my soul, I'll sing my soul to You
And give You all that's in my heart.
You are the One, for this I pray,
And I'll sing my soul to You.

May Debbie Friedman’s memory be for a blessing.

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