Forty men and women, secular, religious, and ultra-Orthodox were invited to the party, held in the Wallis’s living room in Kochav Yair. “We passed out a sheet to everyone with the five blessings you say before eating different kinds of food, and the virtue there is in each of these blessings: Blessings on food for livelihood, the blessing for fruit of the tree for children, the blessing for fruit of the vine for finding a match,” says Gidon.
“The relevant foods were placed on the table. Later the round of blessings began. For each blessing each of the participants in turn raised the food or drink connected to the blessing and said the blessing aloud, and everyone shouted, ‘amen.’ Someone wanted to get married. Someone wanted a blessing for children. You feel that people are saying the blessings with a lot of intent. The party lasted two hours; the experience was unforgettable.”
“Amen” parties are all the rage among the religious and ultra-Orthodox, and they’ve even led to a new kind of bestseller. Just One Word- Amen, by Esther Stern, published about a year ago by Feldheim in Jerusalem, has sold over 30,000 copies in English alone, and is considered the ultra-Orthodox world’s greatest and most surprising success story in recent years. The book has sold over 3,000 copies in Spanish, over 1,000 in French, and it’s now being translated into Russian.
There’s also an “amen” book for children, written by Tamar Ansh, who held a special conference in Jerusalem’s Binyanei Ha’umah attended by 3,7000 women who came to hear lectures and stories on “amen.”
“The responses to the book are amazing,” says Ansh. “People are calling me with stoies about what the book is doing for them, especially what is’s doing for their children. It’s nice to write a book and to see it being sold. But what you want to know is that people appreciate what’s in it.”
The first “amen” parties were held in the home of Rabbi Avraham Kessler from Bnei Brak some 40 years ago. Two children died in his building and an important rabbi said that blessings save people from death. So Rabbi Kessler began gathering children to say “amen.” He would generally hold his parties on Sabbath afternoons in his home.
The participants included the rabbi’s children, the neighbors’ children, and guests who had heard about this new experience. The parties in the Kessler home laid the foundation for the current fashion. In addition to the food, the blessings, and saying “amen” aloud together, Rabbi Kessler would speak on the importance of amen.
“Answering ‘amen’ is evidence of the truth of the blessing and a declaration that the Holy One Blessed be He is the creator of everything.” But the desire to join together in this declaration did not turn saying “amen” into a fashion and an experience. It was the stories that began to spread about amen’s strength to provide solutions to difficult problems which were responsible for that.
Tovi Tzeitlin Baron, one of the main amen party organizers, got involved after a spontaneous amen party she organized in the summer camp of an ultra-Orthodox girls’ seminary. Baron was then a single woman in her 20s, an age at which it’s considered problematic to be single in the ultra-Orthodox world.
In the first amen party she organized, which continued into the wee hours of the morning, hundreds of girls screamed “amen” over and over again while praying for her to get married. Not long after that she did get married. Today she appears at parties for young people of all ages, from kindergarteners to high school students, and the stories keep coming, getting more and more amazing. She dreams of writing a book, but right now she’s far too busy.
Two women brought about this great revolution, Sarah Maizlish of Bat Yam, a lecturer and rebbitzin married to a yeshiva head who is the daughter of the late Bobover Rebbe, and Esther Stern, who has many children and is married to a man who studies in a yeshiva. Maizlish’s connection to the issue arose from a tragedy in her family. Her daughter Malki was killed in a traffic accident when returning from a hair-cutting ceremony in Meron with her husband and three-year old son.
“It was the first day of the shiva,” recalls Maizlish. “The room was full of family and friends. Many people came from abroad to console us at that difficult time. My close friend, a teacher at our school, entered and sat down…. ‘What was Malki’s full name?’ she asked. ‘Alta Nechama Malka,’ I replied. ‘That’s interesting,’ she said, ‘the first letters of her name spell the word ‘amen.’ ... She left with words of consolation and exited the room.
“That night, when the family and guests had gone to sleep, I sat with my husband, may he live a good long life, in his study. We sat together, sharing our pain, trying to console and to be consoled. In the long hours in which we talked, I mentioned my friend’s comment on our beloved Malki’s name. My husband got up and took out of the bookshelf the book And Say Amen.
We studied together and on that painful night the ‘And say amen’ inititiave was born for the ascent of Alta Nechama Malka’s soul. The things that I learned that night changed my life. ‘Amen’ means faith. I felt especially close to this word. If I didn’t have faith, I don’t know how I would have coped with this disaster.”
Esther Stern of Bnei Brak, who heard one of Rebbetzin Maizlish’s lectures, was excited and decided to collect stories about amen from the past and the present, and to put them in a book. “Many people say that they’ve held blessing parties and their entire life has changed. Our generation must need something small. We don’t have the strength to do great things,” says Stern with a smile.
Have you said “amen”?