Unemployed and feeling unstimulated by the traditional Jewish worship practices he had spent years studying, Andrew Hahn was in a Colorado record store one day when inspiration came to him from an unexpected place: a recording he purchased of Indian call-and-response chanting called kirtan.
In kirtan, Hahn discovered a way to take his extensive knowledge of the Torah — including a doctorate in Jewish thought and experience studying with several esteemed rabbis — and present it in an inspiring, unique way.
As a guest of Santa Barbara’s Congregation B’nai B’rith, Hahn — who is an ordained reform-tradition rabbi based in New York City — will bring his unique form of Jewish teaching to town later this month, doing tai chi, kirtan chanting, and music-infused Shabbat services at a variety of venues around town.
“This is not just for Jews,” Hahn said. “The simple aspect is that it’s just fun.”
Calling his new form Hebrew Kirtan, Hahn takes passages or words from the Torah and repeats them back at the audience, similar to the way the traditional Indian practitioners of kirtan would chant names of various deities.
“I don’t merely need kirtan or want it to be this fun thing, but want to rather ground it in tradition,” Hahn said.
Most importantly, Hahn said kirtan addresses an important need for meditation and contemplation in Judaism today.
“Kirtan is meditation,” Hahn said. “I’m discovering a that there’s a clamor for keeping the service as is but injecting meditation.”
Along with kirtan, Hahn uses tai chi, a discipline he has studied extensively, to convey Jewish traditions, and he will be hosting a tai chi Shabbat on Hendry’s Beach during his time in town.
As a rabbi, Hahn said he never felt totally comfortable following the path most rabbis take.
“I did the regular academic and rabbinical thing, but I didn’t fit in the right boxes,” Hahn said. “I tried for a while to fit in a more traditional way, but it wasn’t working out.”
Hahn said he began teaching as the Kirtan Rabbi in 2006, though he is occasionally called the Tai Chi Rabbi, depending on the service.
“My concern is to get kirtan into the mainstream,” Hahn said. “It makes people feel very good.”
According to Alyson Solomon, assistant rabbi at Congregation B’nai B’rith, Hahn’s visit is an opportunity to show how the Jewish tradition continues to evolve.
“For the Jewish community, I want them to see all the amazing ways that Judaism is multifaceted in its modes of expression and creativity,” Solomon said. “Whether singing, listening or tapping along, the idea is to enjoy the music and be surrounded by other people’s voices. Kirtan is another way to sense the divine presence.”
– Shabbat Service with Kirtan Infusions: Friday, May 21, 7:30 p.m. Congregation B’nai B’rith, 1000 San Antonio Road, Santa Barbara
– Tai Chi Shabbat Minyan on Hendry’s Beach: Saturday, May 22, 9 a.m., 2981 Cliff Drive, Santa Barbara
– Kirtan Havadallah Concert: Saturday, May 22, 7:30 – 9:30 p.m., Congregation B’nai B’rith, 1000 San Antonio Creek Road, Santa Barbara
– Sat Sang Teaching: Sunday, May 23, 7:30 p.m. Yoga Soup, 28 Park Way, Santa Barbara