CHANT IS A WAY OF FOCUSING on the core meaning of a prayer or piece of text that allows us to enter more fully into the kavannah, the holy intention, of the phrase. By using a simple melody and repeating the sacred phrase over and over, we are able to open our hearts to its blessing, to step inside of the prayer itself and take on its deeper meaning. The repetition itself becomes a meditation. Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches: "Chant is the bridge between the inner life and the outer expression; between the solitary practice and the shared beauty of fellowship. When we chant we are using the whole body as the instrument with which to feel the meaning of the sacred phrase."
In March of 2000 The Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living invited Jeanette Gross to lead a session of Sacred Chant. The practice was so well-received that it continued as a monthly offering for many years. Some of the "regulars", including Bess Meek (above, far right) have been there almost every month since the very first session. (Click here to read a poem Bess wrote after that March 2000 session)
I look forward to this group so much: Month after month, year after year, these folks keep showing up.... they pour their hearts into the practice of sacred chant. They share their wisdom with me as much as I share mine with them. My favorite part of the hour has become the last few minutes when I walk around the circle and make direct eye contact with each person for at least one round of our Shabbat Shalom chant. *(See photo and chant below) Even if someone has been sleeping (which is not an unusual circumstance!) they seem to perk up for this one. and when they notice me standing very near singing directly to them, the close contact always brings a beaming smile, and by the time we finish the chant, even those who may have been snoring, are now fully engaged. Over the years I have watched several residents transition from walking in on their own, to using a cane, then a walker and, because it has become so important to them, even when they move to a wheelchair, someone helps them get to and from the Synagogue so they can participate.
The very first session, a tiny little woman who snored quite loudly right beside me throughout the hour said as she left, "Thank you so much! For the first time in ages, I didn't feel my pain for a few minutes!"
One man who was almost completely deaf, came every month during the first few years, singing his heart out even though he couldn't hear most of what we said or sang. The practice was so meaningful to him that even on the days when he was feeling quite poorly, he came and participated fully right up until the last month of his life.
A woman who never, ever remembered that she had attended before, kept showing up month after month, as long as she was physically able to.... pouring her emotions into the chants and thanking me profusely afterwards.
Another woman who sometimes spends much of the hour looking very distant and removed always lights up at the end when I make eye contact with her as we close with a Shabbat Shalom chant. Her smile brightens the whole room!
A long-time participant, age 105, who comes every month says: "You always leave me with a certain feeling.... I can't really say more, just that - it's just a feeling I get...." (In reality she says a lot more than that - she is one of my best teachers, always questioning and challenging!)
At the end of the hour, there is always a short period of time when one after another of the participants give me hugs and kisses on their way out... I always feel that I get much more than I give!
A little glimpse into this very unique Sacred Chant Group.
JEANETTE GROSSis Chant Leader at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA. Jeanette has studied with Rabbi Shefa Gold since July, 1996 and is a graduate of Rabbi Gold's Kol Zimra Chant Leadership Training Program. Jeanette has been teaching monthly
sessions of Sacred Chant in Lafayette since July, 1998 and a monthly
"Chanting with Our Elders" group at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville since March, 2000. In addition to her regular chanting
groups, Jeanette has organized and led special chanting programs for
Temple Beth Abraham's Sisterhood (Oakland, CA), The Mill Valley
Community Church (Mill Valley, CA),
Temple Isaiah's Annual Women's Retreat and for Temple Sinai
(Oakland, CA) through Lehrhaus Judaica (Berkeley, CA). In 2014 Jeanette
led a Sacred Chant and Healing Circles workshop at LIMMUD Bay Area.
Since 2008 she has been leading Temple Isaiah's Healing Circles Project, an innovative way to support members of the community in times
of illness or other need. Each Yom Kippur between Temple Isaiah's
Morning and Afternoon services Jeanette leads a study session using
sacred chant to deepen and enrich this long day of prayer and fasting.
(Open to the public, continuous from 2:30pm to 4:00 pm, leading into
Temple Isaiah's Afternoon Service at 4:00 pm)Jeanette
often co-leads Temple Isaiah's monthly Mussar and Meditation Service
with Rabbi Judy Shanks, a Shabbat morning service that meets on the
first Saturday of the month.