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Baltimore Jewish Times

Kirtan Rabbi’ Brings Indian Chants, Drumming

Maayan Jaffe Staff Reporter

OCTOBER 26, 2007

Kirtan Rabbi
When the lights dim at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center on Saturday night, Nov. 10, the chanting will begin. The drums will beat. Voices will vibrate.

From 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., the JCC’s Adult Life department presents “Kirtan Rabbi: Mystical Hebrew Chant.” The evening, according to adult life coordinator Miriam Abramovich, “from start to finish is going to be really exciting.”

The “Kirtan Rabbi” is Rabbi Andrew Hahn of New York City. Joined by drum circle facilitator Shoshana Jedwab, the two will unleash the life force through a participatory song session of Hebrew call-and-response chanting. (No knowledge of Hebrew is necessary.)

“People should come with an openness to let go a little, participate and enter into something a little different than usual,” said Rabbi Hahn, who will encourage people to chant, hum and meditate along with him — and wear comfortable clothes.

In synagogues, Jews sing a prayer through and then move on to the next. Kirtan chanting depends on continual repetition of a “simple, beautiful Hebrew phrase to enter a different consciousness and state of mind,” he said. Chants can go on for as little as two minutes or as many as 20, the participants determining each chant’s length.

Before each chant, the rabbi offers what he calls an orientation, a teaching to set the mood and intention for the upcoming chant. Upon completion, there is a short meditation or silence.Folks generally sit on yoga mats or pillows.

Though the system is Eastern in nature, Rabbi Hahn said the intent is not to “be Indian,” or even to bring the two cultures together. He said he wants Jews to find commonality and spirituality in their own religion.

With a rabbinical degree from Hebrew Union College and a doctorate in Jewish thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Hahn said the “rabbi” part of “Kirtan Rabbi” is equally as important as the “Kirtan.” What he said he is trying to do is use an Indian method in a Jewish way, to reach people who might otherwise feel spiritually empty or at least need something to complement their traditional religious experiences.

“Most of us have grown up with a Judaism that got pretty dry, and that is why so many people went off to be ‘Hin-Jews’ or ‘Bu-Jews.’ They weren’t finding the energy they were seeking in Judaism,” he said.

Rabbi Hahn said spirituality is not enough without religion, and he doesn’t think mixing a cocktail of spiritual practices will offer the same fulfillment as finding spirituality in religion, which offers a history and community.”Religion with no spirituality will die,” he said. “Spirituality without religion is a kind of narcissism.”

At his sessions, he said he hopes people will have “a direct yet intellectually and emotionally informed experience of God, whatever God means to them, and to have that connection to the Divine in a context where they also feel connected to the community of participants around
them.”

Ms. Abramovich said she expects as many as 50 people to attend the “Kirtan Rabbi” event, which costs $8 for JCC members and $12 for non-members (drink and dessert included).

She said the night fits into the center’s spirituality and wellness program, and she said she is confident that “if you are looking for a new way to explore a connection with God and spirituality, or even just interested in Hebrew and niggunim (wordless Chasidic melodies),” the
“Kirtan Rabbi” will be able to help.

“He is really interested in breaking down the formalities of prayer and connecting to God,” said Ms. Abramovich.

What Is Kirtan?

Kirtan is a form of chant developed in India to heighten participation, communal feeling and ecstatic communion with the Divine, according to Rabbi Andrew Hahn. Its unique call-and-response formula takes away the notion of singer and audience, but rather is wholly participatory.

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