Rabbi ‘stirs souls’ with kirtan songs
By Judith Salkin
March 6, 2011
Hahn, the Kirtan Rabbi or Reb Drew as he’s also known, uses some unconventional tools to introduce Jewish philosophy to a wider audience by leading call-and-response concerts at yoga studios and synagogues around the country.
At 6 p.m. today he’ll bring his music to Urban Yoga in Palm Springs.
Ancient Sanskrit, the language of kirtan, and Hebrew are both “vibrational” languages, capable of stirring the soul, said Hahn.
“I believe people have a primal reaction to these songs,” he said. “I’ve had so many Jews tell me that after years of not going to services, my kirtans had awakened something in them they haven’t felt in years.”
At 52, this isn’t the path the late-blooming rabbi had in mind when he was ordained in 2003. “I thought I was going to be a regular pulpit rabbi,” Hahn said from Los Angeles.
An academic with a Ph.D. in Jewish philosophy, he was exposed to kirtan by friends in his final year of studies at Yeshiva in New York.
“My initial reaction was, ‘What are you doing?,’” he recalled.
But when he left New York for Colorado, a friend gave him a Krishna Das CD that would eventually change his life.
“I couldn’t find a job anywhere,” he said. Depression set in and one day Hahn found the kirtan CD, which he popped into a player.
And something unexpected happened.
He responded to the similar repetition of kirtan that he knew for many years in Hebrew prayers.
“And while I was listening, I felt it make my depression lighter,” Hahn recalled. Which triggered a new line of thought: “I started to wonder how I could do kirtan in Hebrew.”
It was a natural progression, since Hahn had always loved music and the liturgical song side of the services. He started going to kirtan concerts for the emotional lift and to the watch the masters lead the chanting.
He adapted traditional Jewish songs, some dating back thousands of years, to kirtan and reached out to Jewish organizations and synagogues.
Eventually, Hahn started writing his own prayer songs.
Kirtan, he realized, had became his calling. “I’m a lingua-Zionist,” he said. “I let the language wash over the audience and work its magic. It’s not a traditional pulpit, but I believe it’s what (God) meant for me to do.”