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Finding Joy in the Dark

03/09/2023 04:33:04 PM


Rabbi Kelly Levy

Like many of you, I grew up singing the songs and musical settings Debbie Friedman wrote throughout much of the second half of the 20th century. Her music has an ability to speak to almost every moment in life, whether joyful, full of sorrow, or even the most mundane. As a rabbinical student, I was fortunate to learn melodies Debbie wrote that I never knew as a young kid. When I was in my second year of school, Debbie sadly died at far too young and my entire school found themselves grieving this enormous loss to the Jewish community.

Debbie taught at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion for many years, although she herself was not an ordained cantor. But, her musical skills, her teaching ability, and remarkable connection to Judaism made her a wonderful addition to the faculty. After she died, we held a memorial service at HUC-JIR for Debbie, which of course included many of her songs. One song in particular always stuck out to me. Several years before her death, Debbie wrote a beautiful version of Psalm 30. We sang this at the end of the memorial, not just because of it’s beauty, but because of the words. Everyone joined in singing, through their own tears, and found a way to celebrate the life of this gifted musician.

The past couple of weeks have been extraordinarily tough. Our community has experienced the loss of many beloved individuals, others have heard challenging health news, some experienced heartache and broken relationships, while others continue to grieve and recover from difficult experiences that occurred in the last year. And yet, despite the heaviness and pain, we came together on Monday to celebrate Purim, a fun and joyful occasion. We sang, we laughed, we wore silly costumes, we ate hot dogs (maybe too many hot dogs for some of us!), we created a ridiculous mad-lib to retell the story of Queen Esther, and we enjoyed being with one another.

Purim reminded us that even in the most difficult moments of life, there is still joy to be found. Debbie Friedman reminded us that while we mourned her death, we could still turn that into dancing as we found joy and comfort with our community.

There will always be challenges that give us pause, that make us question our beliefs and faith in others, that create a pain that throbs and aches within us. But, there will also be many more moments of good, of joy, of connection, of love. Those are the moments that carry us through, that allow us to take the next big step. Those are the moments that we hold close, that keep us alive, that allow us to keep dancing.

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784