YofiYah: Kabbalah Kirtan
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YofiYah: Kabbalah Kirtan

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The best kept secret in music

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"A genre-blending ticket to ecstasy!” - Mary Armstrong


The best recording I've heard in ages. A fine vocalist and spirited leader, the subtlety of her message reveals a deep wisdom and understanding. I keep on singing the music long after the CD has ended." - Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Seigel


A marvelous gateway to the spirit, creating holy community through the call and response mastery of a true energizer of the soul. Yofiyah brings yofi (Beauty) to Yah (God). - Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi


"Yofiyah opens heart and soul to a new dimension in Hebrew devotional music. Her work is authentic, powerful, and soul-awakening; offering you a powerful and personally transformative entry to God-realization." - Rabbi Rami Shapiro


"Four Stars!"
The trance-like ecstatic states that can be acheived are powerful...a frequently delightful set... YofiYah has a supple, attractive voice, the Indian instrumentation is appealing, and the choral group she works here is unobtrusive and skillful...Fun to experience first hand. - George Robinson


"Mixing Hindu Music, Jewish lyrics...with its undulating percussion and hypnotic call-and-response choruses, is the quintessential trance music." - Jim Remsen


The newest rung in the Jewish spirituality ladder.

Kabbalistic Kirtan: Just Replace Hindu With Hebrew

If you've ever been to a yoga class, you've probably performed kirtan, an ancient Hindu call-and-response chant practiced by Hindus and Sikhs.

Now imagine that the phrases you were chanting were not Hindu, but Hebrew. Welcome to the newest rung in the Jewish spirituality ladder: kabbalistic kirtan.

The genre — which features chanting Jewish names for the divine over Middle Eastern rhythms, articulated by a wailing oud and thumping percussion — was single-handedly created by Philadelphia resident Susan Deikman in 1999, when she first discovered kirtan at an informal session at an Indian friend's house.

"The call-and-response singing coupled with text was so powerful as a spiritual practice," Deikman recalled in an interview with the Forward. "I felt a connection with the group and lost a separate sense of self. But at the same time, I wasn't keen on chanting the Hindu names of gods, which didn't resonate with me. Later I thought, why can't I do it Jewishly?"

The following year, Deikman started performing Jewish kirtans at P'nai Or, a Jewish Renewal Congregation in Mount Airy, Pa., and now performs regularly at Philadelphia-area yoga studios and Jewish renewal synagogues, as well as the Elat Chayyim retreat center in New York's Catskill Mountains. Her self-financed CD, "Kiss the Beloved: Kabbalistic Kirtan," which she completed in August, features eight tracks performed in Hebrew, Aramaic and occasionally English. The songs feature very few words, and instead present mere utterances sang by Deikman like mantras, and repeated by backup singers. In addition to versions of "L'chah Dodi" and "Oseh Shalom," the disc features the singer's evocations of the divine in songs like "Echad B'echad" and "Hamakom Hazeh."

This winter, Deikman will lead kirtans across the country at yoga studios, liberal synagogues, and Sufi centers. And she's received the imprimatur of one of the most important figures in the Jewish spirituality movement, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who gave her the name "Yofiyah," a contraction of yaffe and fiyah, meaning "beautiful mouth of God."

"It's a new form that's pushing the boundaries in a way that's really needed," Deikman said of her kabbalistic kirtan. "The evidence for me is when I perform at yoga centers and Jews come up to me who are in no way connected to the Jewish world, and tell me that the music makes them feel very excited."

Until about 10 years ago, though, Deikman considered herself a spiritual seeker with little to no connection to Judaism. She grew up in a "culturally Jewish" home in the San Francisco Bay Area, where her parents went on Buddhist retreats and to Sufi study centers. She never had a bat mitzvah, nor had she ever learned a word of Hebrew.

After unhappy stints at the San Francisco and Boston Conservatories, the classically trained soprano quit singing for 10 years. She moved to New York and worked as an art director in magazine publishing. Ironically, it was Judaism that facilitated her return to music.

In 1994, a Lubavitcher cousin encouraged her to join a Jewish choir. She reluctantly joined Bilubi, an Orthodox choir at Congregation Ohav Zedek on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where women were allowed to sing as long as they refrained from performing solos.

Singing transliterated versions of "Adon Olam," "Shalom Aleichem" and "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" struck a chord in Deikman. "I loved the tonality and the poignancy of the music and the musical modes the songs were in," she remembered. "It resonated very deeply within me."

In 1997, Deikman wanted to move out of New York City and her cramped fifth-floor walk-up studio, to live in a city where she could afford to work as a full-time musician and music teacher. Friends pointed her toward Mount Airy, a liberal Jewish enclave in Northwest Philadelphia that is also a hotbed of the Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal movements. It was there that she discovered a like-minded community of left-leaning Jews who embraced practices such as yoga.

"After I finish a chant I'm so dialed into the group," Deikman said . "At the end of the evening, the sense of presence in the room is palpable," she continues. "I have a stupid grin plastered on my face that I can't wipe off. My heart is cracked open, and I laugh and cry at the same time."

For more information, visit www.KabbalahKirtan.com.

Rachel Zuckerman is a staff writer at Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent.
- Rachel Zuckerman


Discography

Kiss the Beloved: Kabbalistic Kirtan

Photos

Bio

In Kabbalah Kirtan we are calling to the Divine (G-d).
A new form of prayer, Kabbalah Kirtan is a new expression of Jewish spirituality, offering to everyone what was once reserved for mystics alone: a direct experience of the presence of God. Kabbalah Kirtan is the intense devotional chanting of Hebrew texts, and the Names of God found in the Jewish tradition.

The simplicity of the words and the hypnotic energy of the music, transform Kabbalah Kirtan into a pathway of opening your heart.

When they come together to chant with YofiYah, Men and Women both begin to let the rhythm and words carry them to a feeling of oneness regardless of their level of Hebrew fluency and religious training and background.

• Benefit to those who attend the live events
Kabbalah Kirtan is the practice of calling out to God. As the intensity of our calling grows, a feeling of deep community emerges and we enter into a vibrational harmony with All that Is. We are enveloped in a mystical union marked by deep joy and even ecstasy, expressing a sense of Oneness and unity with all in All.

• The buzz is spreading by word of mouth--interest is growing in North America and Israel, with individuals, organizations and retailers requesting CDs and live events.

Who is YofiYah?

A vocal visionary and originator of Kabbalah Kirtan, Yofiyah is known for her dynamic style of chanting, and ability to engage people in the intensity and joy of kirtan. Yofiyah offers you a powerful, direct, and personally transformative entry to this ecstatic spiritual practice based on the chanting of sacred Hebrew texts and Names of God. Susan's latest CD is titled "Kiss the Beloved: Kabbalah Kirtan" (2004).

Yofiyah is also the creator of Vocal Discovery, a unique method for personal transformation and community building, using the power of sound and song; and the Tone Deaf Choir, helping self-defined non-singers learn to sing. A leader in the international Music for People organization, she uses her skills as a voice teacher, artist, and improvisational musician to create a safe, welcoming, and spiritually challenging environment for finding and freeing your authentic voice.

Why she does it:

Q: It is interesting that you are combining creative work with spirituality. What inspires you to do this, and why is this important?

A: I believe spiritual beauty lives within every person and can be expressed through music...every person is innately musical! My work empowers people to feel musically free and have a spontaneous experience of the divine spark of creativity within. My method uses music improvisation in a fun and accessible way that allows any combination of people and instruments to make music together regardless of their skill. The intimacy engendered by this process creates a feeling of community that goes beyond words. That communal connection is the foundation for a Jewish spiritual experience.

Q: How did you come to be called Yofiyah?

A: After an evening of kirtan, wishing to bless my work, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Jewish Renewal, asked me for my Hebrew name. Discovering I didn’t have one, he closed his eyes for a few moments in prayer, then opened them and announced to me and the others assembled, “your name is now Yofiyah, Beautiful Mouth of God”.