By Molly Zatman
Copy EditorSenior music education major Ryan Ritzes covers his eyes as he leads the group in song on Nov. 1 (Molly Zatman/ Mitzpeh)
The fire crackled as a wordless melody – a sturdy hum – drifted into the cold November night. This type of music, open for Jews of any religious or musical background to congregate for soulful melodies, is called a nigun.
The main Jewish congregations at this university – Shira, Kedma, Ometz and Ruach – held a bonfire nigun circle on Nov. 1. Over a dozen students attended the event, feasting on s’mores with mega-sized marshmallows and contributing their voice to the constant rhythm. Kedma is this university’s Orthodox community, Ometz and Shira are Conservative or traditional egalitarian, and Ruach is the Reform group.
“It’s magical energy,” Liora Petter-Lipstein, a freshman letters and sciences major, said.
Petter-Lipstein represented Ometz, the university’s traditional egalitarian congregation, in planning the circle. She said the representatives for the different religious congregations came together to brainstorm events that could bring the whole community together.
Charles Summers, a freshman government and politics major, also was an Ometz representative who helped plan the experience.
“We wanted to represent the talents of people here,” Summers said, “And we have a great singer, Ryan, our representative from Ruach.”
Ryan Ritzes, a senior music education major who led the nigun circle, said he didn’t know what to expect.
“It was my first nigun circle, leading or participating, but I figured, let’s do it,” Ritzes said, “and we probably had 30 to 40 people come.”
Ritzes said the event was “familial,” with a comfortable atmosphere for anyone: “there’s always people that are scared of not being good enough to sing, but that didn’t happen here.”
Summers said the event was planned for a Monday night to act as a homely respite from day-to-day life on campus.
“Monday is depressing, you know, a return to the reality of school. So this made it a place away from the stress and chaos,” he said.
Summers also said he met students with similar interests throughout the event. “I’m a freshman, so organizing this and participating was a great way to meet new people.”
Natalie Eisen, a freshman neuroscience major, said she felt that the circle provided her with a sense of community and intimacy she hadn’t yet felt in the Jewish community.
“It felt like you could talk to anyone there,” Eisen said, “plus, the singing and the s’mores [helped the event].”
She learned about the nigun circle last-minute at a Chabad event she had attended earlier in the evening. Eisen headed to the activity on a whim, and it has been her favorite event at the Hillel so far, she said.
“I hope they do more stuff like this,” Eisen said, “I would go back.”
Both Summers and Petter-Lipstein said the board of representatives is working on new activities.
“We’re going to do something with Shira,” Summers said, “one more event for the semester.”