By Jane Keller Gordon
Westborough – Leaving the pressures of daily living outside the sanctuary, a group of Congregation B’nai Shalom (CBS) members and visitors join together in sacred Hebrew chanting on the last Tuesday of each month from 7:30- 9 p.m. CBS member Eva Friedner, 69, has led the “En-CHANT-ment CIRCLE” since 2006.
She describes chanting as musical meditation; “… a form of meditating, of settling the mind, of going inward as well as sharing the energy of the group.”
“Some people think chanting is a little strange… It sounds a little ‘woo woo’,” said Friedner. She encourages people to experience its power, adding, “There is scientific evidence that chanting has a positive effect on our physical, emotional, and spiritual well- being.”
“Singing brought me to chant, which combines my love of music with spirituality – an amazing combination,” said Friedner. She grew up listening to classical music at home, and singing at camp, school, and in choruses. Today she is a member of Shir Joy, the only Jewish chorus in central Massachusetts.
Friedner, who was born in Prague to Holocaust survivors, was raised in New York with two
sisters and a brother. When she and moved to Massachusetts in 1977 with her husband, the couple joined the very young CBS while it was housed on Charles Street. Friedner lives in Milford, where she raised her two daughters, and worked as a speech/language pathologist.
In the 1990s, Friedner started studying with singer, chant writer, and author Rabbi Shefa Gold, a world-renowned leader of the Jewish Renewal Movement who reintroduced the ancient practice of chanting to modern day Judaism. As a result of Gold’s work, chant circles take place at a growing number of synagogues and other venues.
When creating Hebrew chants, Gold incorporates Native American, Buddhist, Christian, and Islamic spiritual traditions. Her chants may be accessed through her website, rabbishefagold.com. In addition, 40 melodies for the chant, “Flavors of Gratefulness,” are included in an app by that name.
At CBS, Friedner begins each chant circle with a wordless melody, called a “niggun” in Hebrew. This brings members of the circle into a relaxed state.
Each month, there is an overall theme for the chanting. The group sings chants written by Gold, Friedner, and others.
“When we chant, the words diminish in importance as the intention and the melody becomes stronger. The repetition helps the intention to grow within us as our daily problems fade away… the strongest part of each chant is the silence at the end,” said Friedner.
According to Friedner, each chant might go on for 5 to 20 minutes. At the end, it fades away. During each circle, there are usually 5 to 7 chants. She said that chants stimulate different feelings: some joyful and some pensive or contemplative.
“We sing a chant, but a chant sings us,” explained Friedner paraphrasing Gold. “A chant is a way of getting into our inner selves. It makes us conscious of what we are feeling.” She said that especially when the group is large, members often feel the energy in the music.
Friedner strongly believes in the healing power of chanting. She believes that it helped her daughter relax, and relieved a bit of her pain, when she was dying from cancer.
CBS’s Rabbi Rachel Gurewitz said, “In offering chant-based meditation that uses Hebrew, we have a modern way of experiencing a very ancient Jewish practice… At (CBS) we have been introducing these ways into Jewish mindfulness practice, both through Eva’s chanting group, and through our monthly Spiritual Journey Group. Both groups are open to everyone.”
For more information about the “En-CHANT-ment CIRCLE,” contact Friedner at [email protected].