The Amen Effect: Ancient Wis­dom to Mend Our Bro­ken Hearts and World

  • Review
By – January 17, 2024

Ear­ly in The Amen Effect, Sharon Brous describes a pas­sage from the Mish­nah about an annu­al pil­grim­age that took place when the tem­ple in Jerusalem still stood. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Jews ascend­ed to the Tem­ple Mount, entered the court­yard, turned to the right, and then cir­cled and exit­ed to the left. Some, how­ev­er, entered and veered left. Peo­ple would ask them, Why are you going the wrong way?” And they might say, Because I am bereaved.” To which the oth­er would offer words of comfort.

Draw­ing from her years as a rab­bi, and weav­ing togeth­er Jew­ish tra­di­tion, sci­ence, psy­chol­o­gy, and biol­o­gy, Brous explores how to bridge the gap between those on the right and the left — both lit­er­al­ly and fig­u­ra­tive­ly. She calls our uni­ver­sal, human long­ing for con­nec­tion the amen effect.” From the Hebrew word emu­nah, mean­ing to believe” or to affirm,” the word amen serves as an acknowl­edge­ment of the oth­er. Yes, I believe you, I see you. Amen.

The Amen Effect reads as an extend­ed philo­soph­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al con­ver­sa­tion about the per­ils of alien­ation and trib­al­iza­tion and the impor­tance of the true, heart­felt encounter.” While the book is root­ed in reli­gious teach­ing, one need not adhere to a reli­gious tra­di­tion to appre­ci­ate its wis­dom. In fact, one of Brous’s strengths as a writer is her seem­ing­ly effort­less abil­i­ty to bring togeth­er many voic­es, ancient and recent, Jew­ish and not, to weigh in on how to nav­i­gate sor­row — our own and oth­ers’ — and how to heal.

Brous’s empa­thy is tem­pered with real­i­ty: she avoids sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty and easy answers. She advo­cates show­ing up for oth­ers and being open to con­ver­sa­tions with those who hold oppos­ing views. Still, she acknowl­edges that a just soci­ety will be born through reck­on­ing and repa­ra­tion, not wide-eyed engage­ment with peo­ple and move­ments open­ly fueled by igno­rance, racism, and fear.”

Brous grace­ful­ly bal­ances the individual’s desire for mean­ing with their con­cern for oth­ers. The two are inex­tri­ca­bly inter­twined because, one day, we will be the ones veer­ing to the left. And it will be up to oth­ers to whis­per amen to us on our journey.

The epi­logue, Write a New Sto­ry,” pro­vides short sug­ges­tions about how to put the amen effect into prac­tice in one’s dai­ly life.

Angela Himsel’s writ­ing has appeared in The New York Times, the Jew­ish Week, the For­ward and else­where. Her mem­oir is list­ed in the 23 Best New Mem­oirs at bookau​thor​i​ty​.org. She is pas­sion­ate about her chil­dren, Israel, the Canaan­ites and chocolate.

Discussion Questions