One of my most favorite parts of the Kabbalat Shabbat (Welcoming of the Sabbath) service on Friday nights is the singing of L’cha Dodi.
Literally meaning, “Come, my Beloved”, the prayer analogizes the Sabbath to a bride, and at this pinnacle part of the service, we (during the last verse) rise, turn to the door to the synagogue, and figuratively greet the “Sabbath Queen.”
One of the reasons I love this prayer so much, is that each week, in our kibbutz synagogue, a different person leads the prayers, and each week, a different tune is sung to L’chai Dodi. It’s rare that you will hear the prayer sung the same time two weeks in a row and I personally look forward to seeing what’s up the leader’s sleeve.
And, having attended Friday night services regularly for the past 20 years or so, and having traveled around the United States and Europe and throughout Israel, I would say that I’ve heard a good number of melodies put to this traditional prayer:
I’ve heard the prayer put to:
Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, “This Little Light of Mine”, the theme song from “M.A.S.H.”, and “The Sound of Music.”
I’ve heard the prayer sung in unique ways by famous Jewish singer/songwriters like: Craig Taubman, Debbie Friedman, Shlomo Carlebach and Rich Recht.
I’ve heard the prayer performed publicly with musical instruments and without (a cappella).
I’ve heard the prayer sung by children at summer camps in the Poconos and the Abayudaya Jews from Uganda.
I’ve heard it sung from the most traditional to the most modern ways.
I’ve heard it sung to Chanukah, Tu B’shvat, and Passover tunes.
Yet, I’ve never, ever heard it the way I heard it sung this past Shabbat.
To the tune of…
Now, had I been sitting in a synagogue in America, where the country is inundated for a month at least of Christmas holiday tunes on the radio, and houses lit up with beautiful Christmas lights, and Santa Claus visits in malls and fire truck trips up and down city streets, I may not have been so shocked.
Shocked… but, maybe not so surprised.
Well, maybe surprised… but…
My point is, is that I wasn’t sitting in a synagogue in America on Friday night.
I was sitting in my little kibbutz synagogue in Israel.
And, I was, well, shocked.
“Really? Seriously? Am I hearing what I’m hearing?” (I questioned to myself).
I probably rolled my eyes (but I’m not aware that I do that. Only my husband and other family members of mine notice that.)
My daughter, sitting next to me, whispered to me, “Is this Jingle Bells?”
“Yes”, I answered. “I can’t believe the leader chose to do that,” I judged.
Boy, was I STUCK.
I was totally taken away from my focus and concentration of the prayer service.
I was so disappointed and disenchanted, that I first I just sat there stunned.
Then, I had this little conversation going on in mind… “If I sing along, it’s like I’m condoning the message” (i.e. that it’s ok to bring in Christmas tunes to the synagogue), so I just sat there, purposefully, without singing and waited for the prayer to just be finished with so that we could all move on.
I’ve got to admit: It kind of ruined my mood for the rest of the evening.
Now, I realize that leader had no such intentions (to purposefully hurt others or ruin their moods). Though, apparently, most of the Americans (who understood that it was the tune of “Jingle Bells” we were singing) were irked. It’s not clear how many Israelis caught it.
I did approach the prayer leader the next day (today) and shared my feelings.
And, his response was, “It’s a holiday song, not a Christmas song!”
“But, really, how many kids attending Jewish day or Hebrew schools would be singing this song in their schools this month?” He had no response to that.
I don’t think I’ll ever renege on my stance to this experience.
But, what I’m upset about (more than the tune itself) was my reaction to it.
I got STUCK (once again), and instead of just taking a moment to sit silently, notice my feelings, and notice my choices in the matter, I just reacted automatically by judging, waiting impatiently, and allowing this experience to ruin my prayer service.
And, although I don’t agree with it (and apparently the synagogue committee which I’m a part of would like to discuss it and set a “rule” from now on), I can see how I could have chosen a different path.
How I could have chosen just to close my eyes.
How I could have chosen just to enjoy the words.
How I could have chosen just to fancy the melody.
And, how I could have continued to rejoice in the Kabbalat Shabbat service that I do each week without letting “Jingle Bells” ruin my evening.
It’s not like I really had any control over it anyway.
Oh well.. It’s oK.
We all get stuck, I keep telling myself.
And, getting STUCK on “Jingle Bells” should be the worst that any of us ever get stuck on.