Debbie Orzack

Debbie attended the Northfield Conference for many years, but was unable to in recent years, mainly due to her health & mobility limitations. But she stayed as connected and “tuned in” as she could via the GRAPEVINE, group emails, one-on-one emails, and telephone calls. She still very connected to our community. Debbie was a valued editor of the Grapevine for several years. This past summer, she participated in and expressed how much she thoroughly cherished and enjoyed our “Taste of Northfield” – Virtual Conference – to see so many faces of the people she had not seen in a long time.  She held onto that memory and was looking forward to participating in our upcoming, Virtual Midwinter Conference. May we hold her in our hearts and up to the she becomes another star in the evening sky💖

Debbie was Libby Friedman’s sister, Joshua Friedman’s sister-in-law, Margot & Jake Friedman’s Aunt, a family member through marriage to Betsy Friedman Hays and Mickey Friedman, (among others)…and a friend to many Northfielders. 

Debbie was a fighter to the end. She had many physical challenges, but had a very positive attitude, called herself a “survivor” and was a strong advocate for disability rights.  She passed very quickly on January 11, 2021, and was actively planning for the next stage of her life, until the very end. She deeply loved her family, friends, nature, music and the many communities that she was actively involved in. 


Permit me to share a little tale about Debbie, whose challenges taught me a lot about my own assumptions and privileges.
It was a late workshop – background story irrelevant here. We were going to dance at Beveridge and Debbie arrived wanting to join. We moved outside to accommodate her and the event was better for the fact that we were barefoot in the grass and under night’s stars.  The energy exploded. A lot of laughter and silliness occurred. We spiraled and rocked and spun around her and totally incorporated her. It was easy. And we went to our dorms and I thought nothing about it except that it was a special evening.
Thinking about her today, my consciousness shifted from the original perspective, how easy it was to shift gears and include her, to the fact that she had shown up to be included. What vision! I thought. To join in dancing. 
Would I do the same in her situation? I asked myself.  And I thought, maybe not.  I deprive myself of things if I can’t do them . I make assumptions – not just about others, but about my myself and my abilities. 
And then I thought about her, being in the circle as we danced, and how nourishing to feel our flowing and happy enjoyment of the night and to partake in that. Of course she would long for it. Of course it would be something – probably more – special despite her inability to actually dance with us. 
And I thought again about that evening and how accomodation wasn’t just about making it possible for her to join in, which was easy. To me, what I felt today,  was of asking myself what I deny myself before I even ask for an opportunity? Or, similarly, how do I do the same to others?
 She forced me to witness something that night which I’ve only just understood today. And I know there is more hiding and that with every word spoken another assumption is cached in a blurry spot waiting for someone to notice it. Aho.Allison

Such courage it takes to be vulnerable and speak up for one’s needs in a situation like that…in Debbie’s “simple” request to join she conveyed what a strong woman she was! That is how I remember her, showing up with complete unabashed candour and self awareness.She is free to dance now, swirling, barefooted in the grass.❤️✨Kym

Northfield is a place to challenge assumptions and to include people who are often not included in lots of places in the world. I often admired Debbie’s courage in not just pushing back to get what she needed, but to advocate for others in similar circumstances. My last memory of her was at a taste of Northfield when she came to my son’s writing workshop. She had such great questions and was really working hard on her writing. I just remembered how joyful she was to be able to be with all of us since being on line removed all the barriers for her.I am picturing her dancing where ever she is. Love, Cathy

Dear friends, I am including my comments here from the shiva, to give a bit of love and history of Debbie’s life. Love, Libby

Deborah Sue Orzack
12/24/52 – 1/21/21

My sister’s life was sadly cut short, and our only solace now is knowing that she didn’t suffer for long at the end. Many of you have known her just in the later part of her life, so I want to share more about her that you may not know.

Debbie was many things –
She was –
Born in Bloomington, IN
Daughter of a Psychologist, and a Sociologist and a grandaughter of a Physicist
We grew up in Newton MA on Bunny Circle, so of course we all loved animals
Marine Biologist / Zoologist
Went to UMASS Amherst, then Rutgers New Brunswick, for her masters
A student researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic institute
Studied in Israel
High school science teacher, in NJ and MA 

Co-wrote chapters and articles with my mother on Computer Addiction, and contributed to the chapter my mother wrote in the book, “The Battle for Azeroth”. The book was about the game, but the chapter was about how addicting computer games could become.
Helped my parents research their historic playing card collection
Collected miniatures along with my mother 

Growing up Debbie was a
Animal lover – we had every pet and stray animal known to man, living in our house at some point
a knee-jerk liberal
a hippie
A Girl scout
an anti-war protester
Member of jewish youth groups
A mountain climber – Mt Monadnock was her favorite
Loved visiting our grandmother Celia in NY – she bragged about going to the Russian Tea Room, and I was very jealous
She went to dances at school, called Cotillions
Fun memories of watching the moon landing in 1969, through my dads telescope, on Bunny Circle in Newton, where we all grew up
Fun trips to NYC to see grandparents, and to Expo 67 and 72
Her birthday was Dec 24, Christmas eve, and Debbie was always mad that restaurants were always closed, in the old days, on her birthday. Somehow, we’d ended up at Anthony’s Pier 4 a few days later in downtown Boston, for a birthday dinner. Baked stuffed shrimp was her favorite. 

As an adult, Debbie was a committed disability advocate
She testified in 2008, as a member of the “Massachusetts Task force on Emergency Preparedness and People Requiring Additional Assistance” at the MA state house.
Advocated for accessible cabs in Worcester, MA – written about in the Worcester Telegram
Debbie was part of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s groundbreaking pain management meditation seminar at UMass Medical Center. This program was featured on the Bill Moyers’ program called “Healing and the Mind” – so you can see Debbie in that show if you can find it on youtube.
Debbie became an adult Bat Mitzvah, and was both very religious and spiritual
She was actively involved in her temple, especially through the choir 

Personally, Debbie was a
a passionate naturalist
lover of all aspects of nature
Animal lover, especially cats, and her cat, Moshe, who is now being taken care of Chovy, Steven and Ariane
Turtle lover
Music lover, especially singing
Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Simon & Garfunkel were her favorites
She loved Tom Lehrer, and Alan Sherman
Member of choruses through out her life, most recently her temple choir
Loved swimming in the ocean
Loved Vermont, and spent many summers there as an adult
Loved the Northfield conference and attended many times
Loved aquariums and all things aquatic, the muckier the pond the better
Loved eating shrimp, lobster, ANY, ANY seafood (sorry, Rabbi) 

Debbie loved family, reunions, talking on the phone, and parties
Debbie was incredibly devoted to Maressa, our mother, and became even closer to her after our father, Louis died
As a kid, I remember baking with her, and making canapes with her for my parents really cool 1960’s cocktail parties
A fantastic aunt to Margot, Jacob and Nora – she loved them all dearly
Debbie basically taught my kids everything they know about nature
A devoted niece to aunts and uncles – Mildred and Everett Orzack, and Lenore and Erik Blegvad (on the Hecht side)
Very recently, the Orzack family got together on a Zoom call, organized by our cousin Susan. Debbie was struggling, but was so happy to be part of it and to meet new relatives. She felt part of it as an equal, as we were all remote, in our little screens. She really wanted to be part of the future connections we were all starting to make.
In one of our last conversations, Debbie said her goal for 2021 was to go scuba diving. She would have made it happen. 

I loved my sister, and her passion and her love for our family. This love will carry on, deep in all of our hearts.

Suggestion for donations:
Disability Policy Consortium

Northfield Conference
Debbie’s memorial page

Temple B’Nai Shalom
117 E Main St, Westborough, MA 01581
Donations –

I hope this gives you some insight in who Debbie was. Some of our family and friends will now share some of their memories. Thank you.

Libby Friedman
Debbie’s sister

3 thoughts on “Debbie Orzack

  1. You will be missed Debbie ! We love you ! Thank you for sharing this for us to read so much layers to her what an amazing woman !

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