Singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman arrives in Moscow exhausted after her long journey to the former Soviet Union (FSU). As she enters the dimly-lit auditorium, her weariness deepens. An awkward tension hangs like a dark cloud over the audience of Russian and American women. Even six prized Torah scrolls, brought as gifts from across the ocean, fail to brighten the women's spirits. They whisper quietly in English, Hebrew, and Russian, waiting for the ceremony to begin.
One by one, speakers solemnly acknowledge that the presence of these sacred scrolls marks a dramatic shift towards religious freedom in the FSU. "There have been many problems with being a Jew and studying Judaism," says organizer Olga Finogenova through a translator. "But those days have vanished, and these Sifrei Torah will nurture our growing Jewish communities." The women clap respectfully. Debbie eyes them hesitantly and then straps on her guitar and takes the stage.
A few women sing along self-consciously: "O sing praises to God,/ give thanks to God with a song." Many more hum awkwardly. Suddenly the tempo quickens, and the audience stirs. Some women tap their feet, while others rise to dance, their brightly colored skirts twirling around them. They don't know the steps, but that doesn't matter anymore; Debbie's Jewish music has touched deeper memories. They lift the Torah scrolls and take turns carrying them joyfully around the circle. Debbie joins them and offers a blessing to these women who were strangers only a few hours earlier. Now, they clutch each other, locked in tearful embraces of gratitude.
Debbie Friedman has recorded 19 albums and performed in hundreds of cities throughout the world.