JCC opening: Friedman gives voice to Jewish values

“It is community, k’lal Yisrael and tikkun olam, the healing of our universe, which have driven my work,” says singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman.

Friedman’s concert at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 16, marks a special occasion for the Bay Area’s Jewish community. Not only because of her considerable place in the world of Jewish music and culture, but also because her music gives voice to several values of importance to the regional community.

For 30 years, Friedman’s music has been played in synagogues, summer camps, living rooms, even hospital rooms around the world. Her San Francisco concert highlights the inaugural season of the JCCSF’s performing arts program. Presenting Friedman — who names ’60s icons Peter, Paul & Mary, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez as her original influences — is an ideal fit with the JCC’s dedication to building community and exploring the Jewish imagination through art.

While much of Friedman’s music stems from liturgical roots, it is her ability to connect with everyday life that keeps the songs relevant and meaningful. By bringing to life the feelings raised by camaraderie, spirit and tradition, Friedman’s concerts help build connections not only among audience members sharing the experience, but also to a shared Jewish history.

“People are hungry for a sense of spiritual connectedness,” Friedman believes. “Jews of every age are looking for a place to live their Jewish lives and to put their Jewish hearts.”

Building such meaningful bonds among all parts of the Jewish community, and promoting Jewish identity in all its forms, is central to the JCCSF’s mission. “This concert is exciting on many levels,” said Lenore Naxon, director of the Eugene & Elinor Friend Center for the Arts. “We are proud to present a performer of Debbie’s stature to this community. More importantly, this is a chance for people to celebrate their Jewishness, to connect with their history, their families and their community.”

In an opening season that includes Israeli pop music, an African American cultural choir, solo theater about New York’s hip-hop culture, jazz singing and literary discussions, Friedman’s concert could be the most traditionally Jewish event on the schedule. Yet the blending of innovation and tradition is at the heart of both the JCCSF arts program and Friedman’s music. Finding the shared experience, where everyone has a voice, is the goal for both.

Says Friedman, “I live for those moments when people sing out and connect and create this sense of community and camaraderie. We’ve spent enough time capitalizing on our differences, and I think it’s time that we spend time on what we share in common.”