1,500 raise voices in song to remember Debbie Friedman


As the piano struck the first notes of Debbie Friedman’s “Elohai N’Shama,” Cantor Linda Kates paused before the approximately 1,500 people gathered in the sanctuary at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) and recalled a story about how the late singer-songwriter energized a crowd of Jewish students while teaching them the song.

“We all have a ‘Debbie story,’ ” Kates said, as the audience laughed along with her.

More than a dozen Jewish musicians, rabbis and cantors told their “Debbie stories” and performed some of Friedman’s most popular tunes as part of a free, public memorial concert VBS hosted Feb. 13 to honor the composer’s legacy. Titled “Lechi Lach” after one of Friedman’s early hits, the evening marked the end of the traditional 30-day period of mourning following her death Jan. 9.

The mood was upbeat and joyous as performers including Craig Taubman, Julie Silver and Sam Glaser performed Friedman’s crowd-pleasers, frequently inviting the audience to stand, clap and sing along. Community members and clergy came from across Los Angeles to celebrate the way Friedman reinvigorated Jewish communal worship during her career and touched the lives of those who knew her as a friend.

“How do you say ‘thank you’ for all the gifts she gave over her lifetime? How do you say ‘thank you’ for all the songs we sing that came from her?” wondered Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi of VBS, who organized the memorial. “To gather together and sing … that’s the highest form of grieving, the deepest form of remembering, the most powerful form of resurrection.”

The power of Friedman’s music to unite Jewish people was evident as audience members young and old belted out familiar lyrics with gusto, relishing tunes many had grown up with at Hebrew school and summer camp.

Spanning Friedman’s nearly 40-year recording career, starting with her 1972 debut album, “Sing Unto God,” the program featured more esoteric compositions alongside melodies that long ago entered the canon of contemporary Jewish liturgical music. Songs included Friedman’s original arrangements of “Oseh Shalom” and “Mi Shebeirach,” now staples of Reform synagogue services, and her folk-rock anthems “Turn the World Around,” “And the Youth Shall See Visions” and “Not By Might.”

Glaser sang Friedman’s iconic “Tefilat HaDerech” and a medley of her children’s songs, including “The Latke Song” and her ubiquitous tune for the Alef-Bet. After the concert, he praised the way the event brought together Jews of all denominations beneath one roof.

“When you suffer a loss like this, it erases boundaries,” said Glaser, who described Friedman’s music as “a gift from God.”

Cantor and performer Kenny Ellis of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita reminded attendees of Friedman’s humorous side when he showed off a pair of oversize red clown shoes Friedman years ago had goaded a choir into wearing.

Singer-songwriter Silver took the stage in an energetic performance of Friedman’s “Devorah’s Song,” “You Are the One” and “Not By Might.” Silver said she credits her years of friendship with Friedman for inspiring her to become a performer of Jewish music.

“Debbie Friedman’s greatest gift to me was the gift of song. I was a student learning her songs, an educator transmitting her pieces, and finally a songwriter and performer as a result of the vision she shared with me,” Silver said. “She was a master teacher, composer, healer and song-leader, and anyone who was lucky enough to have stood in her light knows how important it is to the future of our people to carry the torch forward.”

Taubman, music producer and performer with Craig ’n Co., sang Friedman’s arrangement of “V’shamru” and “Sow in Tears, Reap in Joy,” stepping down off the bimah and exhorting the crowd to lead the songs themselves. Like others during and after the concert, Taubman said he found it difficult to memorialize Friedman’s legacy through words alone. But in celebrating her music, he said, “her spirit lives on.”

Other performers included Cantor Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah and his family band, the Rolling Steins, and music educator and performer Cindy Paley Aboody, who sang “Lechi Lach” (the feminine form of God’s commandment to Abraham and Sarah to “go forth”).

VBS put the concert together over a two-week period, with no budget. Performers and organizers volunteered their time out of love for Friedman, and even if the show in places seemed unrehearsed, it had all the spirit of an impromptu campfire sing-along.

During the finale, in which Silver led an ensemble performance of “Mourning Into Dancing” and “Miriam’s Song,” women across the audience leapt to their feet and danced around the sanctuary in a grapevine.

Friedman’s mother, Frieda, and sister, Cheryl, were in the audience, along with Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Cheryl Friedman of Orange County said she was touched by the outpouring of respect and affection in her sister’s honor. “Even during the upbeat songs, we had tears in our eyes,” she said. “When people were dancing in the aisles, I looked at my mom and said, ‘Look what Debbie did.’ I just wish she could have been alive to see this.”

Statesman Abba Eban, Dies at 87


The maverick Irish writer-politician Connor Cruise O’Brien once celebrated Abba Eban, who died in Tel-Aviv Sunday at the age of 87, as "the most brilliant diplomat of the second half of the 20th century."

Never daunted by flattery, Eban quipped: "As my mother would have said, ‘Who was so brilliant in the first half?’"

As ambassador to Washington and the United Nations, and later as Israel’s longest-serving foreign minister, Eban was both an eloquent advocate of his nation’s cause and a tenacious negotiator. After celebrating Israel’s eighth Independence Day in New York in 1956 with Eban, Marilyn Monroe and a cast of thousands, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy congratulated the ambassador on his address: "That was the first time Macaulay’s English has been heard in the Yankee Stadium."

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, paid Eban the ultimate compliment in 1955 after Eban had suppressed his own reservations and defended a reprisal operation that killed 56 Syrians. "I, too, began to have my doubts about the wisdom of it," Ben-Gurion confided. "But when I read the full text of your brilliant defense of our action in the [U.N.] Security Council, all my doubts were set at rest. You have convinced me that we were right after all."

Young Eban honed his rhetorical skills in the argumentative Zionist societies he joined in his London teens and later at the Cambridge Union debating society. His speeches, orotund yet witty, always seemed carefully crafted, yet he could think on his feet. After a memorable exposition of Israel’s reasons for going to war against Egypt in 1956, Eban told U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that he had spoken from 20 lines of notes scribbled in the Westbury Hotel restaurant.

Eban’s tragedy was that he was a greater hit on the world stage than he was back home. Despite his fluency in Hebrew (and nine other languages), earthy Israelis found him "too British." He lacked the stomach for infighting. He built no alliances.

It made it too easy for Yitzhak Rabin, a new prime minister who despised Eban’s jacket-and-tie diplomatic style, to marginalize him after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It led to Eban’s humiliation in 1988, when a Labor Party primary relegated him to 18th place on the Knesset list.

"I don’t have to be where I am not wanted," Eban fumed and launched into an alternative (and more lucrative) career as author, lecturer and television broadcaster. The books of his TV documentaries, "Heritage: Civilization and the Jews" and "Personal Witness" became best-sellers. His "New Diplomacy" was adopted as a textbook in U.S. and British universities.

Eban was born Aubrey Solomon in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb. 2, 1915, the son of Abraham Solomon and Alida Sacks, emigrants from Lithuania. His father died of cancer when the boy was 1, and the family settled in London, where his mother married Isaac Eban, a physician.

The future statesman went to school at St Olave’s, an Elizabethan foundation near Tower Bridge. He spent weekends studying Hebrew with his maternal grandfather, Elijah Sacks. After a year’s private tutoring in Arabic, Eban won a scholarship in 1934 to Queens’ College, Cambridge. He earned first-class honors in classics and oriental languages.

As a British soldier during World War II, he served as a major in Egypt and Palestine, where he became the first director of the Middle East Center for Arab Studies, a training ground for generations of British spies and diplomats. While in Egypt, he met and married Suzy Ambache. She survives him with their son, Eli, and daughter, Gila.

At the end of the war, Eban stayed in Palestine and joined the Jewish Agency under Ben-Gurion. Posted to the United Nations, he lobbied for the partition of Palestine and for Israel’s admission to membership. He served as his country’s first ambassador to the world body and to the United States.

Despite the harsh resolutions the United Nations has often passed against Israel, Eban argued that the Jewish State gained more than any other nation from it. The U.N.’s recognition of Israel was "absolutely decisive," he said, in legitimizing the State after 1948.

After returning home, he was elected to the Knesset in 1959 and served successively as minister without portfolio, minister of education, deputy prime minister and foreign minister, a post he held for eight years, spanning the difficult days of the 1967 and 1973 wars. One of his legacies was the "creative ambiguity" of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which remained a cornerstone of Middle East peacemaking for the next 35 years.

Politically, Eban was a dove, a secular Zionist who advocated a two-state solution. "Israel’s birth," he contended, "is intrinsically and intimately linked with the idea of sharing territory and sovereignty." Critics complained that he didn’t fight hard enough against colonization of the West Bank after 1967. It was his disappointment with the Arab reluctance to make peace with Israel that prompted his aphorism that they "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

In his final two years, Eban suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. When the nation finally acknowledged his contribution last year by awarding him its highest honor, the Israel Prize, his wife accepted it on his behalf.

At the time of Israel’s 50th anniversary in 1998, I asked Eban what would be his message for his divided countrymen. His answer: "Learn to live with people — the United States, the democratic world, the free world. Above all learn to live with the neighbors."

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Step away from the Raid can and lean in for a closer look at that bug you’re about to zap into oblivion. After all, that cockroach is in the same scientific class as Jiminy Cricket and deserves some of your respect. Not convinced? Well, we can’t say we blame you. But before you go spray-crazy, head to Pages Books in Tarzana today for a little reminder that we are all a part of the kingdom animalia. Storyteller Shari Sack tells tales of “Bugliest Bug and Other Creepy Crawlies.” The kids’ll enjoy the craft project that follows, and you’ll emerge enlightened, feeling as warm and fuzzy as a tarantula.11 a.m. $3 (materials fee). Ages 3-8. 18399 Ventura Blvd., No. 15, Tarzana. For more information, call (818) 342-6657.

Sunday

You may think of a rotating exhibition of gallery inventory as a fancy term for “leftovers on display.” But we prefer to think of it as an all-you-can-eat art buffet. Check out galerie yoramgil’s current smorgasbord of Israeli and American art. You’re bound to find something you like at this “Group Show.”Runs through Sept. 1. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (Sundays), 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Tuesdays and Wednesdays), 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. (Thursdays-Saturdays), closed Mondays. 319 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. For more information, call (310) 275-8130.

Monday

Tonight, the The Jewish Federation’s Legal Division and Bet Tzedek Legal Services sponsor a panel discussion addressing constitutional issues and a presentation on Holocaust reparations. But starting out the evening is the play, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” The one-act drama is sure to keep the legal mumbo-jumbo in proper perspective, as it chronicles the story of life behind the walls of the Terezin ghetto, as seen through the eyes of the children.6 p.m. (outdoor barbecue dinner), 7 p.m. (program). $35 (pre-registration), $50 (at the door). Santa Monica College Main Stage, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. For reservations, call (323) 761-8297.

Tuesday

Looking for the Zabar’s bagel of theatrical experiences? Well, the Denver Post’s Alan Stern says he’s found it in Donald Margulies’ comedic-drama “Collected Stories.” Guess that makes his characters Ruth Steiner and Lisa Morrison the ultimate toppers. We’re just wondering which one’s the lox and which one’s the schmeer?Runs through Sept. 4. 8 p.m. (Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays). $15 (general), $7.50 (students and theatrical union members on stand-by basis). Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Located on the Beverly High School Campus. For reservations, call (310) 364-0535.

Wednesday

Any musician who pays tribute to the great Barry “Oh Mandy” Manilow deserves to be lauded. (Hey, bet you didn’t know he wrote the song that makes the whole world sing, “State Farm Is There.” That’s right, Manilow is responsible for lots of commercial ditties now part of pop-culture consciousness. So back off, man.) But back to the subject at hand. Dale Gonyea, who wrote Grammy-nominated song spoof, “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow,” has been compared to Dudley Moore, Garrison Keillor and Victor Borge and is performing “Gonyeaville, Here I Come!” tonight at the University of Judaism.7:30 p.m. $12. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. For reservations, call (310) 440-1246.

Thursday

Could be the Basque origins or the fact that you can’t understand what he’s singing about, but Kepa Junkera (with the help of his band) sure does put the “sex” in sextet. Playing tonight at the Skirball Cultural Center, Junkera blends rock, jazz and blues influences with Malagasy folk and Spanish pop trends. He apparently plays a mean trikitixas (that’s a two-row diatonic button accordion for you gringos). And the band accompanies on other well-named instruments, including the cuatro (Puerto Rican guitar) and txalaparta (percussion instrument). Don’t you just love the sound of that?7:30 p.m. Free. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

Friday

No excuses tonight. Take a nap when you get home and gear up for the Nuart Theatre’s midnight movie. Tonight only, super-Jew Alan Arkin plays Captain Invincible in the musical, “The Return of Captain Invincible.” It’s the 1980s and the captain is a washed-up former “Legend in Leotards” who’s forgotten how to fly. But when the evil Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee) threatens to destroy the world with his hypno-ray, only C.I. himself can stop him.Midnight. $9 (general), $6 (seniors and children 12 and under). 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 478-6379.

‘Martyr for Peace’


Flags of the United States and Israel draped the simple pine coffin of Marla Bennett, the 24-year-old student laid to rest on Monday, at a service that emphasized Jewish solidarity in the face of terrorism.

More than 1,500 mourners gathered in San Diego to bid farewell to Bennett, who was killed July 31 in the Jerusalem bomb blast that claimed seven lives at a Hebrew University cafeteria.

"Marla was one of Israel’s martyrs for shalom, for peace," said her rabbi, Martin S. Lawson of Temple Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue in San Diego.

Lawson was joined on the bimah by Conservative Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal, whose Tifereth Israel Synagogue hosted the service, and by Orthodox Rabbi Danny Landes, who heads the Pardes Institute of Religious Studies where Bennett had studied in Jerusalem. Dignitaries from both countries paid tribute, including U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego); Terri Smooke, Gov. Gray Davis’ special liaison to the Jewish community; Tzvi Vapni, the deputy consul-general for Israel in Los Angeles, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Under tight security, with camera crews from nearly a dozen news stations, as well as reporters and photographers from various newspapers and wire services present, there may have been a temptation to make the hour-long funeral service more political than at times it was.

But the rabbis, cantorial soloist Myrna Cohen of Temple Emanu-El, and Bennett’s boyfriend, Michael Simon, kept the focus on the life and values of Marla Ann Bennett.

"Marla packed goodness into every moment of her life," said Simon, who Lawson described as Bennett’s "intended." Only a week before the funeral, the couple had been in Jerusalem, making plans to meet each other’s families in San Diego and Long Beach.

Looking at the 1,500 mourners, Simon said, "This is just not the way it was supposed to be."

Simon described Bennett as a kind and giving person. When they had gone shopping in downtown Jerusalem for presents to bring home for her family, they met an elderly woman who needed help carrying her groceries. Of course, Bennett volunteered, he said.

"I have had an opportunity to love someone with the greatest intensity," he said, adding that he was proud to be loved back by such a person. He read a letter in which Bennett wrote to him, "you bring so much happiness into my life…. Thank you for pushing me to make good decisions. We make a good team. I love you."

After his eulogy, Simon was accompanied from the bimah back to the front row to join the people who could have been his in-laws: Linda, Michael and Lisa Bennett, Marla’s parents and sister.

Lawson delivered the main eulogy, in which he painted a portrait of a girl-turned-woman whose joy and goodness were infectious inspirations to others.

When Bennett had her bat mitzvah 11 years ago, Lawson said, she was determined "to dig" beneath the Torah portion she read.

Remarkably, in light of what happened to her in the Hebrew University cafeteria, Bennett had understood that even though a person might live a holy life, and follow the mitzvot, there was no connection between that and what might happen to that person in the physical realm, Lawson said.

Following her first trip to Israel, with her mother, Bennett spoke at her Torah confirmation about her Judaism. "She spoke of her love for JCA Camp Shalom [in Malibu], of volunteering to help others in the community as part of Jewish teachings and then she said: ‘Have you ever been somewhere with others, just thinking, this is all so right? I believe Judaism has created this feeling … in my life. Judaism is the reason I feel so close to people thousands of miles away in Jerusalem that I’ve never even met. This religion has created such a strong bond, I think it is incredible.’"

As a teenager, she was active in United Synagogue Youth (USY). Lawson said after one Havdalah service celebrated with fellow USYers in La Jolla, "Marla felt a spiritual change in her life and knew she wanted more."

In the past two years, since Bennett returned to Israel to study in a joint program offered by the Hebrew University and the Pardes Institute, "Marla became more Jewishly observant," Lawson said. "She would not drive on Shabbat, so this became an opportunity for Marla and her dad to take long walks together and visit as they wandered through the neighborhood."

"It is also possible that walking was far better for her and others, since I am told that for Marla, driving was not her forte," Lawson’s remarked, and laughter broke through the grief of her friends, seated throughout the sanctuary.

Many of the friends Bennett had made from all her myriad activities attended the funeral.

"Death is a funny thing," Ori Blumenfeld told The Journal. "You spend your life meeting people every day, but the one day that everyone that you ever met and/or life you touched gathers in a room — you aren’t there to see that," said Blumenfeld, who had done junior year abroad with Bennett at Hebrew University and senior year at UC Berkeley. He said that "pretty much the entire junior year abroad class showed up" to pay their respects. Although it was not the way they would have chosen to have a reunion, he said, "Marla would have loved to have seen all of those people yesterday."

"Marla had no enemies, she was that respected and loved….She loved life and the people it included."

Lawson said that after graduating from Patrick Henry High School, where she had been a member of the student council and a cheerleader, Bennett attended UC Berkeley where she chose to live in the Berkeley Bayit, a Jewish student housing co-op.

"She arrived at college not having a clue about cooking, not even about the names of most vegetables," Lawson related. "Patiently she learned and soon became a great cook, preparing meals for her housemates and later, incredible Shabbat dinners in Jerusalem for eight to 10 people without any stress.

"While living in Israel, Marla collected clothing to be distributed to poor Arabs and Jews. Her concern for the plight of the homeless stretches back to her teenage years when she fed the hungry here in San Diego at St. Vincent de Paul. Friends told me how she was a ‘take charge’ person who made you want to help her because you knew it would be fun."

Landes, her teacher and mentor from Pardes, spoke of the biblical injunction against destroying a fruit tree, even in time of war because it provides not only nourishment, but shade and comfort.

"Our Marla was this beautiful tree often in an arid desert of scorched relations," he said.

"Everyone who knew her wished to be under those branches and there was room for all of us."

Landes said he just learned that Bennett used to help a woman in Jerusalem shop, clean and generally make certain that everything was all right.

"It takes 4,000 years of Judaism to produce a person like this," Landes said. "This is what Judaism is all about."

Donations in the name of Marla Bennett can be made to:
Student Israel Travel Program, Temple Emanu-El, 6299 Capri Drive, San Diego, CA, 92120; and Israel Social Service Fund, Jewish Community Foundation, 4950 Murphy Canyon Road, San Diego, CA 92123.

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