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For those who only attend synagogue for the singing, pandemic closures may be contributing to mental health difficulties

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A photo of the Shaarei Zedek synagogue choir in Saint John, New Brunswick in the 1930's | Photo: Louis I. Michelson Archives, Saint John Jewish Historical Museum

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Are you one of those people who hears a song and it hits “just right”?  Where it brings back memories, and feelings you’ve experienced?  There’s actually a science behind music and health, and the benefits are endless. Some studied aspects include types of music, preferred tones, and even (perhaps surprisingly), the community creation of music (referring to choirs, congregations, and even bands).

Research has long studied the effect of community on wellbeing, so it’s no surprise that there have been studies showing the power of music created in groups. The current research suggests that some of the benefits of creating music in harmony with others include reduced anxiety, fatigue, and depression, as well as promoting feelings of well-being and inclusion.

In a study from 2015, looking at bonding and feelings of social affiliation, researchers isolated Oxytocin (the bonding hormone), and adrenocorticotropic hormone ACTH (the stress hormone), and monitored them through groups who sing. In all test groups, Oxytocin (bonding) had increased, and ACTH (stress) had decreased.

To put this into perspective, Oxytocin is also a key player in parents bonding with their newborns. It’s likely the reason that the common practice of singing your baby to sleep, is a bonding and calming experience for not just the child, but also the parents. Likewise, singing promotes an increase, which can actually bond a community closer together.  

Another study conducted in 2016, determined that it’s not just noise that’s responsible for these feelings. Music must be coherent and, (the study suggests), their level of appeal and emotion is highly personal to the listener.  

Perhaps this is why so many feel a connection through Jewish music. While it is a well-known genre, encompassing everything from Klezmer all the way to (in some cases) Israeli pop. It also happens to have a unique feature that isn’t found elsewhere – variability. Because of the consistent part of most Jewish songs is their words, you can often find a variety of tunes for just one set of lyrics.   

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Jewish music is based on expressions of prayers, psalms, poetry, and passages, which in some cases have up to 50 different tunes, and in other cases, there may only be 1-2 tunes. These tunes have enough variability for one tune being slow enough to use at memorial services, and another tune, happy enough to use in a grade school classroom.  

 This unique aspect also allows prayers to become more personalized, and meaning many things to different people. A prayer for celebration can also be turned into a prayer for self-reflection, depending on the way one prefers to hear it. 

In fact, there is a large group of individuals who report that they only attend synagogue for the singing. It’s likely because of the physiological effects that group singing has on the brain. The role of Cantor serves exactly that; To use voice, and tunes, engaging group singing and enhancing feelings of community and spirituality. A role that has a much more psychological impact than many realize.

Born in Iran, Saeideh Rajabzadeh has been hired as the Temple Israel of Ottawa’s new choir director | Photo: Courtesy Temple Israel

This has been another casualty of COVID-19. To reduce aerosol transmission, group singing has been restricted in many settings and brought to a minimum. While not a primary concern with the closing of synagogues, it is an aftershock that may be contributing to mental health difficulties. Many who attend synagogue and pray as a group weekly self-report a strong sense of community and spirituality. It’s likely an underlying reason (along with many others), that anxiety about the high holidays is looming.  

While we may not be able to access this group “therapy” for many more months, it is unlikely to be a permanent loss. Fortunately, those who find the health benefits in music and group song are eager to return to it. In the meantime, Zoom has brought communities through the lockdown, creating an opportunity to engage with musical prayer as a group, to help feed our innate psychological need.

Dr. Deborah Mechanic is a Toronto-based chiropractor. For more information: drmechanicsbodyshop@gmail.com or @drmechanicsbodyshop

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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