PURIM Unmasked

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By: Mozelle Forman

Combine the ahdutof over 240 community women gathered to garner yeshuotfor those in need, the wisdom of two esteemed Rabbis, Rabbi Edmond Nahum and Rabbi Eli Mansour, the kedushaof Rosh Hodesh, and the power of Amen, and you will feel the magic that happened in Long Branch, New Jersey on February 5th.

The First Annual Ladies Deal Community Amen Party, which took place at Ohel Simha Congregation (the Park Avenue Synagogue), was the result of a partnership of dedicated women of all ages. Spearheaded by Esther Benhamu and Ronit Nahum and their daughters, seniors at the Beit Yaakov of the Jersey Shore (BYJS), the event became a community unifying event that left all who attended feeling connected and excited. Overwhelmingly, participants came away with a refreshing feeling of connection, and as Chaya Jacobowitz, mechanechetat BYJS and liaison for the event, so eloquently put it, “We came together, from every section of the community, as sisters, to give hizukto theholimand yeshuotfor all who need it.”

An Undertaking with Ahdut

An event of this magnitude does not happen haphazardly.
It takes foresight, innovation, dedication, and hard work. Enter Esther Benhamu and Ronit Nahum – fearless coordinators with a vision. As mothers of girls in their senior year at BYJS they were all too happy to aid the girls in their fundraising to supplement the cost of their senior trip to Israel. But not ones to think small, they envisioned an event that would not only raise the funds, but would bring a spiritual boost to the Jersey shore community. Mrs. Benhamu reasoned, “The summertime brings a flurryof exciting fundraisers when our Brooklyn cousins arrive. Why not have our own?” Knowing this was an event that would benefit all she relates, “I reached out to the mothers at Ilan High School, the mothers at Hillel Yeshiva, and the mothers at Yeshivat Keter Torah. I wanted the whole community to be involved, and Baruch Hashem, everyone was excited and joined us in our efforts.”

Mrs. Channie Gordon, Principal of BYJS, opened the event thanking everyone for supporting the efforts of the senior class, who worked tirelessly alongside their moms focusing on every detail of the day. But why an Amen party? Mrs. Benhamu explained: “Every one of us has our challenges or knows someone who is dealing with a life challenge. We have mothers in our school who are battling illnesses and young women who need shidduchim. We have heard about the power of Amen and thought it was a good way to bring yeshuot.”

Why an Amen Party?

For those not familiar with the concept of an Amen party, the premise is simple. Give as many people as many opportunities to say berachotso others can answer Amen. But why, you might ask, is saying Amen the goal? Shouldn’t we focus on the fact that we are making the berachot?

Rabbi Edmond Nahum answered that question, citing a gemara in Masechet Sotah(13b). “There it states that the credit for a mitzva goes to the one who completes it.” Citing further evidence, Rabbi Nahum related that in the book of Yehoshua it says that Bnei Yisraelburied the bones of Yosef in Shechem. Although Moshe carried the bones of Yosef for the 40 years in the desert, Bnei Yisraelcompleted the mitzvah with the actual burial, and were therefore credited with performing the mitzvah. “Likewise, Amen is the final touch on the mitzvah of saying a beracha, and there is great zechut for reciting it with kavana.”

For the event, elegant tables were laid out with plates of various foods and herbs covering the spectrum of berachot – from hagefento boreh itzbeh besamim. Rabbi Nahum lead the group by first reciting the berachaallowing the entire roomful of women to respond with a resounding Amen, and then each table of women individually and audibly said the berachaand the rest of her tablemates responded Amen. We drank grape juice, ate a cookie or kaak, had some grapes and then a cucumber, followed by a piece of chocolate. And this was all before the delicious lunch prepared by the BYJS seniors and their moms! We concluded with inhaling the aromas of cinnamon, fresh mint, and even an orange rind to recite the berachotglorifying Hashemfor the sweet scents with which he endows the earth. If you multiply the number of women who participated by the number of berachotsaid and the number of foods eaten…well you need a high-level degree in math to compute that! Suffice it to say there were much kavana(intent) to bring yeshuotto all.

Amen Sweetens Our Judgments

But how do we know that Amen has the power to bring yeshuot? In his eloquent speech, Rabbi Eli Mansour answered this query with another insight into the power of Amen. “Every one of us faces challenges in our life, and these are judgments. The goal of life is not to leave those judgments alone, but to sweeten them. Just like sugar sweetens coffee, which by nature is bitter, so too does Amen sweeten the judgments against us.” Using his vast knowledge of gematria, the numerical value of words, the Rabbi explained the power of Amen.

Hashem has many different names which allude to the different aspects of his interaction with us. One name, which we are forbidden to utter, combines four letters with the numerical value of 26. This name, which we see in our siddurim, “represents Gd’s unfiltered, unadulterated mercy.” We do not pronounce the letters as we see them, but instead say the word “Ado-nai,”another name of Hashem, which represents strict judgment and has a numerical value of 65. “If we could, we would stay clear of judgments, but our tzaddikimwork 24 hours a day approaching judgments and trying to sweeten them. And you too can sweeten judgments.” The Rabbi then revealed that Amen, which has a numerical value of 91, the same numerical value of the attribute of mercy (26) with the attribute of strict judgment (65) combined. “Anytime you recite Amen with kavana, you are taking judgment and sweetening it with the attribute of mercy, and that is the magic of how it dissipates.” (Rabbi Mansour’s entire speech can be found onitorah.com.)

Both Rabbi Nahum and Rabbi Mansour applauded the audience of “nashim tzadkaniot” – righteous women – for their devotion and dedication. Rabbi Nahum encouraged the women to “say your berachotand your response of Amen, every day, slowly and with devotion. Concentrate on blessing Hashem each time you utter the beracha.” Rabbi Mansour ended his speech with this hizuk: The midrash says that the Jewish people will be redeemed in the merit of answering amen. I convey to you ladies that you are involved in hastening the coming of mashiah.

The women I interviewed all walked away spiritually revived and hopeful. “Next year we will come back for the Second Annual Amen party and hear of the miracles that we created here today,” said Esther Benhamu. Adele Cohen shared that “after many years of being out of Deal, I was so impressed and overwhelmed by the unity of our community and how everyone came with open hearts to help bring yeshuotto others.” Last but not least, Mari Gindi, who graciously posts the classes taking place in Deal on the WhatsApp Deal Class Connections on a daily basis, shared her pride in being part of a community that values ahdut. “When anyone of us is in pain or someone needs something, we come together. It is so important for us in this day and age to be united, and today we were all one.”

May the merit of the Amenimrecited at this uplifting event, and a lifetime of saying Amen with devotion, bring yeshuot, and may we merit the coming of the mashiahspeedily. Amen!