friedman - Courtesy - January 11 2011
Debbie Friedman Photo by Courtesy
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Debbie Friedman, a folk singer who set Jewish prayers to contemporary music and created songs that are sung in synagogues throughout the world, has died. She was 59. Friedman died Sunday at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, said Jerry Kaye, a family spokesman.

Friedman was had returned to California from England, where she was teaching and performing, before going into the hospital on Jan. 3 with breathing problems diagnosed as pneumonia, Kaye said.

Friedman began composing songs in high school, and her first albums came out in the 1970s. She combined traditional Jewish liturgies with folk music style, using lyrics in Hebrew and English.

"She was looking for ways to better understand them herself and by doing that, she made it so much more available to anyone," Kaye said. "She grew up in the heyday of folk music and came from the Twin Cities, St. Paul (Minnesota ), the home of Bob Dylan, that whole crowd."

Her songs are heard in Reform synagogues, some Conservative synagogues and even in some Orthodox houses of worship, Kaye said.

She moved back to California last summer to live closer to her mother and sister, and taught at the school's Los Angeles campus, but had planned to return to New York briefly to teach a course, according to the school's website.

"It was kol isha (the voice of women ) for col isha (every woman ) that inspired me," Friedman said in a statement cited on the website.