It's not that I have Christmas envy -- I don't celebrate Christmas,and I love, honor and embrace Jewish holiday traditions -- but there's just something about those Christmas carols that gets to me.
In a way, Jewish prayer is like another pillar of observant Jewish life: Shabbat. Just as tefilah involves letting one's creativity conquer one's boredom, Shabbat is about finding creative enjoyment on a day when cell-phones, iPods and DVD players are treated as hardly more useful than paperweights.
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shirah and is named for the "Song of the Sea" sung by Moses and the Israelites after they experienced the redemption at the splitting of the Red Sea. What was it, the rabbis asked, that evoked shirah, song, at this point and not earlier when they actually left Egypt? What propels the song to burst forth from their lips? When are we motivated to truly sing the song in our hearts?
For Ilana Besha, 19, the songs conjure up images of the first mass aliyah from famine-stricken Ethiopia to the Promised Land. "When word came to our village that we were going to Israel, it was like a dream come true," said the teenager, who was in Los Angeles last week with Shlomo Gronich and the Sheba Choir. But her long, exhausting journey was fraught with danger. As Besha, at 4, walked with her family across the Sudan, several of her baby cousins wasted away and died. "They are buried in the desert," she said.