This Shabbat was Shabbat Shirah, which is the celebration of a very special moment in the Torah, and a very musical moment in biblical history. It is the Shabbat of Singing. Many congregations highlight this Shabbat by creating services brimming with extraordinary music to celebrate Moses and Miriam leading the Israelites across the Sea of Reeds and out of slavery in Egypt.
Shabbat Shira gets its name from part of the weekly Torah reading known as Shirat HaYam-Song of the Sea. As a fan of all things Disney, I can’t not mention that a similar excerpt of the Shira chant was included in the movie The Prince of Egypt in the song When You Believe. Some of you may recognize another part of Shirat HaYam from Debbie Friedman’s Miriam’s Song, which is sung at many Jewish camps.
Visually, this section of Torah is is laid out very differently from the rest, but the distinctions don’t end there. When Shirat HaYam is read, we intertwine a special melody with the regular Shabbat Torah chant. By hearing this melody and seeing the way the verses are written, it is impressed upon us that something special is happening, so we should pay attention!
What is happening is the thrilling conclusion at the Sea of Reeds when the Israelites reach freedom. These former slaves witnessed the ten plagues, fled at the crack of dawn, and now passed through a sea onto dry land. In this moment of victory, Moses needs to ensure that the Israelites understand the depth of the miracles that brought them to where they are, thus he leads them in Shira Hayam, a song of gratitude to G-d.
Crossing the Red Sea is a moment of transition, not just for Moses and the Israelites, but for Miriam as well. She follows Moses through the Sea of Reeds and she listens for his whole song. When the Israelites finish singing, Miriam picks up a timbrel, and all the women dance.
As I think about Shabbat Shira, several things come to mind for me as they relate to Keshet. The first is that music has always been a huge part of Keshet. We have had the Keshet choir since Keshet’s inception it has always been a way that we celebrate, communicate who we are, share who we are, and just one of the early ways we have led in terms of inclusion, which continues even now 40 years later.
I also can’t help but make a correlation between the fact that when we read Shirat HaYam, we intertwine this special melody with the regular Shabbat Torah chant. For me, this is similar to what we see in our camps, our schools, and what we hope for in our community; the intertwining of people with all abilities into the fabric of our community.
It is also very clear that Shabbat Shira has special significance. Keshet is a very special organization, and, more than an organization, Keshet is a family. Our family is made up of our participants and their families, our staff, our board, our donors, and our community partners. While the work we do on a day to day basis is to enhance the independence of our participants and create meaningful and purposeful days and lives within the community, our mission is far more than just that; it is to create a community of belonging, where individuals with disabilities learn, play, work, live and grow with people of all abilities. What our Keshet family does every day is influence assumptions about people with disabilities, impacts the lives of people with and without disabilities and we create communities where everyone feels included and knows they belong. Keshet continues to pick up the metaphorical timbrel and lead the community to celebrate our progress and look towards to what’s next.