Any child who has felt like they don’t fit in will relate to Deborah Lakritz’s new picture book, A Place to Belong: Debbie Friedman Sings Her Way Home. Complete with joyous, expressive illustrations, this biography shares the story of well-known singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman. When Debbie was a little girl, she lived happily with her family in Utica, New York, and spent Shabbat and other Jewish holidays with her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. But when her family moved to far-off Minnesota, Debbie felt sad, lonely, and out of place. Then Debbie’s mom signed her up for Hebrew school, and Debbie found connection and meaning in the prayers, the music, and the community of Junior Congregation. Yet as she got older, and was required to attend adult services, her joy dissipated. She felt stifled by the solemnity and seriousness of the synagogue world.
Everything changed again for Debbie when she found work at a Jewish sleepaway camp. Around the campfire, she heard folk songs that sounded like prayers. She juggled a number of jobs so that she could purchase a guitar and eventually became a song leader, singing and playing for synagogues and youth groups. Soon she wrote a melody for the lyrics of the V’ahavta. When she shared her song at a youth retreat, the teens sang with their arms around each other, the spirit of the song embracing them.
Debbie turned her talent to writing songs that connect all types of people to Judaism. Through her prolific, melodic, and spiritual music, generations both young and old find a place to belong.