This past week, two dramatic news stories have captured my attention and burrowed into my heart. The first is a national story, the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the slaughter of six innocent bystanders at one of her "Congress on Your Corner" stops in Tucson, AZ.
The second is a story that reached a far smaller audience, but it is one that holds even more personal meaning for me. Beloved Jewish singer and songwriter Debbie Friedman has died, way too young, at 59, from pneumonia.
First, the public story. All week long we have watched this devastating story unfold as a nation. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, shot in the head by a mentally unstable young man, but surviving. Her astronaut husband by her side, who is supposed to lead our final shuttle mission in April; her closest girlfriends, two congresswomen who have shared the triumph and pain of being a woman in public service; the young intern who risked his life to save her; her 30-year-old community outreach director, who lost his; and President Obama's moving, remarkable speech, which reminded all of us why we fell in love with him to begin with (and now you know my political affiliation.)
And of course, the six Americans who lost their lives in this senseless act of violence, including nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, born on September 11, 2001, who was already planning a life dedicated to public service.
It is a moment like this, in this enormous, disjointed and disconnected country of ours, when we all feel connected. We are mourning collectively, prowling the papers and the Internet for stories that will give us hope for Congresswoman Giffords, solace over the profound loss of life, a relationship to those who were there and to those family members of the victims whose lives are changed forever.
It is an American moment.
Then there is the deep sadness that I, and thousands of others, feel over the loss of Jewish singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman, whose extraordinary gift was the ability to take traditional Jewish prayers and transform them into songs and melodies that moved a new audience and created a new brand of Judaism. She was peerless in her timing, her vision and her understanding that contemporary Judaism needed contemporary, accessible and soul searching music.
Debbie's songs have followed me on my own journey into Judaism. They have offered me comfort during sad and challenging times, and they have enabled to bellow my joy during the happy moments. I have had her landmark Carnegie Hall concert in my car, first on tape, then on CD and soon on iPod, for many years, and my children have grown up listening to her music.
Each one of my kids has a song that I have dedicated specially to them.
My oldest son has always loved the song "Not By Might":
"Not by might, and not by power, but by spirit alone, shall we all live in peace."
My daughter's song came from a women's seder (another tradition that Debbie's music has inspired) when she was first born:
The song for my youngest son bursts out with
"This is the day. It's whispering new beginnings. The sun's shining over us as we journey on our way. These are the dreams that fill our lives with blessings. The angels are by our side "til the breaking of the day."
And finally, my own, personal Debbie Friedman anthem:
"Oh hear my prayer, I sing to you, be gracious to the ones I love. And bless them with goodness and mercy and peace, oh hear my prayer to you. Let us light these lights, and see the way to you, and let us say amen."
But there is one of Debbie's songs I had not heard before she died. It is called "Mourning Into Dancing."
I can't think of a more fitting tribute to the victims of last Saturday's shooting, or to Debbie herself. Let us use these moments of connectivity as an opportunity to create civil dialogue, respectful politics and a democracy and a country we can be proud of.
And let us turn our mourning into dancing, so that our souls will not be still.