More than 75 people came together to sing, clap, and dance to welcome Shabbat at the inaugural service of Zamru at Princeton University’s Friends Center on Dec. 4.
According to the group’s website, Zamru (“sing” in Hebrew) is part of the growing nationwide movement of “independent” minyanim led by lay volunteers who develop their own services. It was designed to capture the local Jewish community’s “desire to pray to God with voice and instruments and beautiful melodies.”
“Obviously we tapped into something that people were interested in,” said Pam Edelman, a resident of Princeton Junction and one of Zamru’s founders. “They were looking for vibrant musical services — or at least were curious about what it was about.”
Edelman said she was “thrilled” by the wide range of ages at the first event, from undergraduate and graduate students to local families to older worshipers. “It was very intergenerational,” she said.
The Shabbat service — which will be held once a month — will evolve as the leaders and worshipers decide what works best. “We do a mix of traditional music and innovative tunes,” Edelman said. “We start off with a niggun [wordless tune] so people can become familiar with the melody.
“Music is the universal way to pray,” she said. “The idea is to use music as a tool and to invigorate people to realize that prayer can be exciting and relevant and meaningful in their lives.
“We’re talking about world music, a fusion of styles from Sephardi, Ladino, Israeli, Spanish influences, Brazilian influences….” The music is provided by Dan Nadel, a musician from Manhattan, who plays guitar.
“Obviously, having a guitar player during services is not for everybody,” said Edelman, since the playing of instruments is prohibited on Shabbat in the more traditional denominations. “That sets us apart right there.”
There is ongoing discussion as to what the Zamru prayer book should include, “so it’s not just one denomination; we’re definitely pluralistic,” Edelman said. “Some independent minyanim in Manhattan actually ask people to bring their own siddur, but we’re not doing that because this is the ’burbs and there are certain expectations that…there will be a siddur there for you.”
The combination of music and independence “makes us compelling and interesting to people out here,” said Edelman, especially those who “want this added to their Jewish choices and life in Princeton.”
The Zamru gatherings developed slowly, held in private homes at first, but as interest grew, a larger venue was needed.
Rabbi Julie Roth, executive director of Princeton University’s Center for Jewish Life and one of the group’s founders, delivered the d’var Torah at the Dec. 4 gathering. She told NJ Jewish News that she conveyed to those assembled that “the wisdom and joy of Shabbat, of prayer, and community is something we can access only through active engagement.”
“The core leaders spent over six months thinking about the kind of service we wanted to put together,” she told NJJN. In contrast to Edelman, Roth said she was not surprised by the turnout. “I know that people are looking for this kind of prayer experience, but we were certainly pleased to see that many there.”
The next Zamru service will be held on Jan. 22 at the Center for Jewish Life (Hillel) on the Princeton campus. For more information, including a schedule of future services, visit Zamru.org or email email@example.com.