The Mazeltones, a group of Temple Beth Torah members, has been a major part of the temple’s new Friday music service. Musicians include, from left, Cantor Bruce Siegel, Steve Segerman, Eric Boden, Jon Shutman, Anne Siegel, and Seth Hertz.
Photo courtesy Pam Cardullo
June 10, 2008
In January, members of Temple Beth Torah in Ocean were looking for a way to attract more congregants to the traditional Friday evening Shabbat service. They found the answer in the universal appeal of music.
“We wanted to do something exciting, something really special,” said Rabbi Michael Goldstein, the Conservative temple’s religious leader. “We created a service with music that has appealed to many temple members. It’s just what we were looking for.”
Beth Torah launched its Kol Hadash (New Voice) Friday music service in February featuring Cantor Bruce Siegel on guitar and the Mazeltones, a group of Beth Torah instrumentalists. The group includes Steve Segerman on the djembe, an African hand drum; substitute drummer Eric Boden; flautist Jon Shutman; percussionist Anne Siegel; and bass player Seth Hertz, all of whom live in Ocean.
Attendance at services has increased dramatically. More than 150 congregants came to the first Kol Hadash service, and average weekly attendance now hovers between 35 and 50 members. Prior to the introduction of the music service, about 15 congregants regularly attended the 6 p.m. worship service.
In 2007, Goldstein observed a music-driven Shabbat service at a synagogue in North Brunswick. He saw how the congregants engaged in the high-energy service and brought the concept to the attention of Siegel, the board of trustees, and the ritual committee at Beth Torah.
The creation of Kol Hadash presented a creative challenge, said Siegel. He introduced repeated niggunim, or wordless, rhythmic melodies, at the beginning of the service, followed by the incorporation of kabalat Shabbat psalms and prayers into a single, continuous stream of music and prayer.
Siegel combines traditional tunes with those he has written expressly for Kol Hadash. The result has been a Shabbat experience that is full of spirituality and joy, he said. And for congregants who prefer a more traditional worship service format, the temple offers a 7:30 p.m. service that is conducted by lay leaders, Siegel added.
“For years, we’ve tried to find a kabalat Shabbat service that would be traditional but also contemporary,” said Siegel. “With the 7:30 p.m. service in place, we felt we should do something new with the earlier service and offer an experience that would appeal to another segment of our population.”
Most Conservative congregations consider the playing of musical instruments on Shabbat an infringement of the Sabbath rules, but in recent years, more Conservative congregations have added live instrumental music to their services, Siegel said.
“It’s not for entertainment value,” he said. “Its purpose is to add spiritual and emotional depth to congregational worship. If the Kol Hadash service brings sacred texts closer to the heart or allows families to more fully experience the excitement and joy of Shabbat, then it’s worthwhile.”
Although the music service will be on hiatus during July and August (Siegel said he plans to use the time to explore and create new Kol Hadash material), it has become a permanent part of the temple’s worship service schedule.
“The positive feedback continues to be a great incentive,” he said. “Judaism is a very intellectually oriented religion, but sometimes I worry that the emotional component has gotten lost. I think we’ve been able to put that component back into the service through the music.”
“There are so many responsibilities and activities that pull family members in different directions all week long,” Goldstein said. “Kol Hadash brings families together through the words of the past and the music of the present. And music is always meaningful and spiritual. It’s been exciting — a grand adventure — to see this become a part of the comfort and happiness the temple offers its congregants.”
Additional information about Kol Hadash is available from the temple office at 732-531-4410.
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