Rabbi to the Yogis Chants Shema Yisrael alongside Festival’s Hare Krishnas

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“Kirtan Rabbi” offers a pre-Sabbath Hebrew concert for third straight year at Bhakti Fest, the nation's pre-eminent Yoga and Chant Festival in Joshua Tree, CA Sept 6-9.

I like the idea of building communities in surprising places which can connect people with their past and the core of their own being. It allows them to investigate something they lost along the way.

After playing in Rabbi Andrew Hahn’s Kirtan Rabbi band on the night of the rapture last May (which was also the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer), Robert Oakes, a bass player well known at Kripalu and other yoga venues, wrote on Facebook:

“Spent the supposed rapture in a Congregational church playing Hebrew chants in a Hindu style led by a Rabbi for a Jewish community. I witnessed a community of people using music and religious ritual in order to bond, celebrate, have catharsis and get in touch with something soulful inside. This was not about wishing for the end of the world - it was about celebrating life.”

Now Rabbi Andrew Hahn, aka the Kirtan Rabbi, puts on another yarmulke of paradox and cross-millenial out-reach. For the third straight year, he goes as the only Rabbi to the Hin-hyphen (as in Hindu-ish) Sanskrit chanting world of Bhakti Fest. This time they’re not calling for the rapture; nor, will it be a Jewish holiday. But Rabbi Hahn will bring pre-Sabbath Hebrew yogic chanting to a crowd who will spend most of the weekend chanting Om to Kirtan Rabbi’s Shalom.

Kirtan is a form of call-and-response chant developed in India to heighten participation and ecstatic communion with the divine. Hebrew Kirtan’s distinguishing feature is its use of this technology with short, sacred phrases from the Jewish tradition treated as powerful, universal mantras.

For Rabbi Hahn, “Bhakti Fest allows me to broaden the idea of a congregation. Alongside the swamis and other kirtan artists, I find that I can show just how beautifully Jewish wisdom stands side by side with the other great traditions and holds its own.”

Early on, Rabbi Hahn realized he didn’t quite fit as a pulpit rabbi or regular academic. A musician before becoming a Rabbi, Hahn realized that leading Hebrew Kirtan allowed him to mobilize all his skills.

“I view the whole thing as a very special kind of outreach,” he explained. “As a a singular rabbinate, I like the idea of building communities in surprising places which can connect people with their past and the core of their own being. It allows them to investigate something they lost along the way.

“It’s not like I have left behind my Ph.D. or my rabbinic ordination. Kirtan became a way to bring my background into my music. It was a return to music for me, because I’d started out, way back when, as a classical musician.”

When the Kirtan Rabbi puts on his other yarmulke and brings yoga and meditation to Jewish communities, he also helps congregants experience their faith in a new way. This two-way rabbinate seems to be working because his concerts and services are in high demand across the country. Whether performing in a yoga studio or a traditional synagogue, Rabbi Hahn finds himself at home in both worlds.

Asked about attending a predominantly Sanskrit-based festival, Kirtan Rabbi said, "Music and chant are beautiful equalizers. I find Kirtan to be of the only forms of practice where there literally are no '-isms.' Hebrew, like Sanskrit, is a vibrational language which generates direct connection with the Divine and immediate opening of the heart. When everyone comes together and chants at Bhakti Fest, we truly become one."

Rabbi Hahn received rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and earned a Ph.D. from the Jewish Theological Seminary, both in New York City. His also a life-long instructor in martial arts and kindred meditation techniques. He has two musical CDs: Kirtan Rabbi: Live!, recorded at New York’s fabled Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on NYC’s Upper West Side, as well as Achat Sha'alti (one thing I seek). Hahn is resident scholar at CLAL: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and has been working in LA with Metivta: a center for contemplative Judaism

Bhakti Fest is a festival which celebrates the devotional path that has its roots in yoga, kirtan, and meditation. It embraces ancient and modern sacred wisdom and traditional and non-traditional spiritual practices.

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For more information on Kirtan Rabbi and Hebrew Kirtan (including a video and music samples), go to: http://www.KirtanRabbi.com

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Joanne Tolkoff
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