15 years ago, recovering from stage 4 cancer, I attended a service at Detroit’s Temple Beth El. Our son David was speaking that night. I was there for the singing of the Mi Shebeirach, the Jewish Prayer of Healing. I’d spent 8 months in treatment and didn’t realize my name had been read every Friday night on the Sabbath, as a member needing healing prayers. It was a comforting surprise. As any cancer survivor knows, I was still feeling vulnerable. Waiting for the next shoe to drop. And since I hadn’t gone out socially for so long, you can be sure the shoe wasn’t a Louboutin.
15 years later, I’m familiar with the Mi Shebeirach, with its soulful tune and moving lyrics.
Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M’kor Hab’racha l’imoteinu
May the source of strength
Who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing
And let us say, Amen.
Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M’kor habrachah l’avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing
With r’fuah sh’leimah
The renewal of body,
The renewal of spirit.
And let us say, Amen.
Now my husband’s the one dealing with a health challenge. Instead of spending his retirement on the golf course as he intended, Burton has spent way too much time in hospitals. In those hospitals I sought out chapels where I could weep in private. There on my cell phone I discovered a beautiful version of a guitarist singing the Mi Shebeirach. I played it over and over.
Recently, I received a call from Temple Beth El’s Cantor Rachel. She thought I was in the D and wanted to visit and give me a hug. I told her I relish every hug I can get these days, but was in Sarasota. Only God’s arms stretch that far. I asked if she’d sing a Mi Shebeirach for us. I took my phone into the family room where Burton sat in his comfy motorized recliner. I perched on the arm of the chair, held Burton’s hand and said, “Hit it, Cantor.” The voice of an angel wafted through the phone. Music shoots straight to the heart. Evidence of my physiological response streamed down my cheeks. A sacred and painful yet hopeful moment.
I’m grateful to be here. I’m grateful to be anywhere. I’m especially grateful to be here for Burton, who was a better caregiver than I’ll ever be. Still, I believe in miracles. I hope our family didn’t use up our entire allotment in my recovery almost 200 full moons ago. Burton could use a miracle of his own. The side effects he suffers from brain surgery in 2018 are daunting. Partial paralysis. Cognitive impairment. But so far he’s progressing. He helps himself (God helps those…) by working hard at PT, staying positive and participating in whatever he can.
Recently I took him to see the new Sarasota Art Museum. A miracle in itself of hard work, architectural genius, generosity and faith. Burton patiently listened to me expound on Vik Muniz, whose smart, creative photographs were (still are) on display. Our morning visit to the SAM wore Burton out. We returned home soon after. Later, friends Larry Thompson and Anne Garlington of the Ringling Art & Design College visited. That night Burton was too pooped to make it to dinner with friends Jill and Scott Levine. I went without him. I told the Levines about our Mi Shebeirach solo. And how often I’d listened to a You Tube video of a woman singing it with a guitar in a chapel.
“Debbie Friedman,” Jill said.
I hadn’t noticed the name of the woman serenading me on You Tube. The next morning I checked her out on the internet. Not only did Debbie Friedman perform the song countless times in countless synagogues, but she had composed the tune. Sadly the power of the song wasn’t enough to heal her. She died in 2011, at 59, of an undisclosed illness.
According to Debbie’s eulogy by the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Reform worship was once characterized by organs and choirs. “Debbie taught us to sing… as communities and congregations. The guitar became a sacred instrument in her hands.”
Surely the angels in heaven are as entranced by Debbie’s singing as I was. Thanks, Jill, for the heads up. Debbie, for the hope and consolation. Cantor Rachel, for the acapella solo.
Thanks, friends, for the prayers and well wishes. May we all find the courage to make our lives a blessing.