How Do We Sing In Dark Times?

From Rabbi Yosef:

How do we sing in dark times? This is a question that we Jews have been asking since we first became a people. We turn to song in moments of uplift and celebration, and so much of our rich tradition poetry, prayer, and song was borne out of crisis and grief.

I have been thinking often of this question in this dark and painful year of 5784, particularly in the lead-up to this weekend of Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat on which we read of the culmination of the Exodus with Israel singing the Song of the Sea.

I was commissioned earlier this year to compose a song for Shabbat Shirah for Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle, NY. At first, my instinct was towrite a purely joyful, upbeat dance song, picturing Israel–led by Miriam and the women–dancing with ecstasy and relief. After the attack of Simchat Torah and the terrible aftermath, I found inspiration in the sages who imagine that Israel sang not only once they were safely across the sea but that they first burst into song in the depth of the sea, with the Egyptians still behind them and the waters at each side. They were, undoubtedly, scared and in great peril; at the same time, they had faith and were exhilarated by the prospect of a new life of freedom.

So we sing today, with our hearts heavy from the violence and sadness that surrounds us, yet filled with hope of renewal and the possibility of peace and growth. though the songs may be different and emerge from a different spiritual and emotional state and need.

For me, the song that I channeled, Ashirah, is about singing from a place of connection to the Source of Life that is beyond joy and pain, that acknowledges where we are at and taps into something more fundamental, vital and eternal, a place of connection and hope.

Ashirah (“I Will Sing”)

Music by R. Yosef Goldman

Text from Psalms 104:33:

אָשִׁירָה לַה’ בְּחַיָּי אֲזַמְּרָה לֵאלֹקַי בְּעוֹדִי

Ashirah la-Shem be-chayai azamra lelohai be-odi

I will sing to the Eternal with my life;

I will sing praise to my God with all of my being.

Here is the live video from my band’s premiere performance last Sunday of Ashirah.

Yosef Goldman singing Ashirah (World Premiere) Click to watch