THE PASSOVER QUESTIONS YOU NEVER THOUGHT TO ASK
By: Miriam Sasson
An Exclusive Interview with Judith Tobal Betesh
Picture this: It’s Shabbat afternoon. A group of virtuous women gather around the table to partake in the foods of each beracha category that will connect them further to the Master of the World. One by one, they recite the blessings over each food, and the earnest chorus of “Amen!” follows. Behind these “amen parties” is a most energetic and warm personality – Mrs. Judith Tobal Betesh of Brooklyn, New York.
The First Amen Party…
Judith Betesh shares her inspiring journey into the sphere of amen parties, which began on a rainy summer day in 2006. On her sister Rini’s recommendation, she and several friends had gone to a class by Rabbi Raymond Beyda in Long Branch’s Park Avenue Shul. By the end of the class, the rain was torrential, and the women congregated by the shul’s entrance, waiting for the storm to abate. A woman whom Judith had never met approached her crowd of friends. “I recently read Just One Word – Amen and was so moved. I want to make an amen party as a merit for my sick son who needs a yeshua. Would any of you girls like to help out?”
Judith, a young, single girl at the time, volunteered, leaping into immediate action. “I recruited my friends, we baked and we helped implement the woman’s idea of a mini Chinese auction to benefit Israeli soldiers, too.” Rebbetzin Ruchama Shain, a”h, author of All for the Boss, was invited to address the women.
The turnout? “Fantastic! About 150 women and girls attended, which was way more than we expected, and we enjoyed a beautiful night.” The woman who’d requested the event, Mrs. Sherryl (Betesh) Bouganim, was truly grateful.
Later, Judith learned that Mrs. Betesh’s son suffered from sudden kidney failure. He had been studying in yeshiva in Israel, where he experienced headaches and vomiting from which he found no relief, save for Shabbat. At twenty-one, the young man shed about forty pounds of muscle, all from being sick. When Sherryl visited her son that year, she checked him into an Israeli hospital where he was diagnosed with kidney failure. Transferred out of the country a month later, dialysis began, and the weary wait for a kidney transplant commenced. The Betesh’s could only pray for a miracle, as the average wait time for a kidney was eight years and his blood type was rare.
At the time of that original amen party, Sheryl’s son had been on dialysis for eight months. All the while, Sherryl researched, networked and cared for him.
Incredibly, on the Shabbat following the amen party, the Betesh’s Shabbat meal was interrupted by the incessant ringing of the telephone and, finally, the answering machine’s recorded message. The family listened. “Mr. Betesh, you won a lottery of one in ten million. You are a perfect kidney match to a 22-year-old man!”
After the transplant, two boys were suggested as matches for Judith. When she discussed it with Sherryl, with whom she kept in touch, the woman responded, “Forget both boys! Why don’t you go out with my son?!” Judith did, and she and the “boy,” Frederick Betesh, got married shortly after.
That is the story of not only how Judith Betesh met her husband but also how she embraced amen parties. As a newly married couple, she and her husband hosted amen parties in their apartment. Since that first amen party in 2006, Judith has conducted amen parties at every opportunity. She especially cherishes the ones held with her family and siblings on Shabbat since, on Shabbat, each ‘amen’ is multiplied a hundredfold. Over the last nine years, she estimates arranging close to two hundred parties.
“The parties are so beautiful, so meaningful,” Judith enthuses. When participants sit down with their plate of berachot and cup of grape juice, she says, “you feel the kedushah. You feel different; you feel happier.” There is a gorgeous prayerthat accompanies each blessing. Judith and her husband developed a pamphlet with the prayers in Hebrew and English as well as the correlation between each blessing and its symbol (see sidebar).
Now, when Judith gets word of others facing challenges – financial problems, marital disharmony – she and her husband inevitably hold an amen party as a merit. If someone doesn’t feel well, her husband drops their amen pamphlet to his house. “We always hear good news afterward,” Judith relates.
Once, a friend of Judith’s husband was in a crisis. His son was ill and the doctors gravely numbered his days. Naturally, an amen party was held, and the boy lives on today despite the doctors’ dire prognosis. By making amen parties, people facing difficulties demonstrate their acceptance of Hashem’s will, and they witness miracles. Judith has heard many of these stories.
Last summer, Judith recalls, her student confided in her that she and her friends were having a hard time dating. “My husband, who was out surfing, dropped everything and delivered the amen booklet to my student’s doorstep.”
A Contagious Amen
So many have gained hizuk (encouragement) from Judith’s story and embraced amen parties. You do it once, and you love it; you get into it,” she promises. Even Judith’s irreligious friends who were never careful about answering “amen” have come to the parties and appreciate their beauty. “People I never expected to have the time for them come people of all types: college students, businessmen and women, mothers of many children, and kollel wives.”
“The impact is so strong,” Judith continues. “It is a different type of connection with Hashem. My prayers have become different – it’s a different, deeper language” which fills this inspirational woman with exhilaration.
“The credit goes to my mother-in-law, Sherryl (Betesh) Bouganim, who initiated that first amen party as a merit for her son, and to Hashem, who opened my eyes to the beauty of amen parties and their ability to connect me to Him on a different level. ”
One of Judith’s most special moments involved her students of the Hebrew school where she taught in Brooklyn Heights. The children, ages 9 through 12, were completely unaffiliated, but their teacher, Morah Judy, held amen parties with them every week. She taught them what beracha each food should receive and how you make each food special when you say a blessing. Even they, who didn’t eat kosher food, embraced it. One student, now a teenager, told her, “Morah Judy, I had a burger, and I made sure not to put cheese, and I said ‘shehakol’ on it!”
The Big Idea
There are those under the mistaken impression that amen parties need to be an elaborate affair. “It does not need to be fancy or long-winded,” Judith exhorts. We take one apple and cut it up into pieces for everyone. Two people is enough for an amen party: one to bless and one to answer ‘amen.’” Sometimes, she and her husband hold an amen party alone.
What is the idea, then? Judith emphasizes, “To say the beracha slowly and with concentration. Our purpose in life is to connect to Hashem, and a beracha is a direct connection to Him. You’re thanking Hashem for each food and giving it significance.” Judy also highlights the value of answering “amen” aloud and with meaning.
“Anyone can do it! It’s so simple!” The only difficulty, she laughs, is getting everyone to sit down!
Judith Betesh’s warm heart and culinary talents also lend to the thrill she gets when hosting an amen party. “I love meeting people and feeding people,” she says. A strong feeling of unity is created when people get together for this purpose, she adds.
Judith and her husband, Frederick, work as a team in their amen campaign, which she appreciates. “He is a source of inspiration to me. He takes everything and rolls with the punches. Whenever I wonder what action I can take to help a friend in need, he invariably suggests giving him or her an amen booklet.” On Shabbat, Judith’s husband is the one who always prepares the amen party. “And he does it with gusto, too!” Judith says.
Judith Betesh concludes with a message to the community. “Life is not always easy, and you sometimes feel alone. It is important to appreciate, however, that everything Hashem does is a gift; even what seems bad is good for us. It is our perspective that must change; not the circumstance. We have to figure out how to turn the challenges we face in our lives into strengths. We must see and appreciate Hashem’s hand in everything, and saying berachot and answering ‘amen’ with concentration is an easy way to see it.”
Mrs. Betesh requests that all our readers pray for the complete recovery of Yeshua Elimelech ben Sara and Yehudit Elvira bat Rachel Alicia.
For more information about amen parties or to receive amen pamphlets, contact Judith Betesh at firstname.lastname@example.org.