Christia's Reviews > My Jesus Year: A Rabbi's Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith

My Jesus Year by Benyamin Cohen
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's review
Oct 22, 2008

really liked it

This was by far one of the best books I've read all year, and when I finished I wanted to tell all of my friends to read it immediately. Cohen is a somewhat disillusioned Orthodox Jew who, seeing the enthusiasm of the Christians in his neighborhood as they attend church every week, wonders about their motivation, and decides to explore Christianity for one year in the hopes that it will give him a better appreciation for his own faith. And, living in the Bible belt (Atlanta, GA), and getting permission from a rabbi, wow, does he experience it! Along the way he visits New Birth Missionary Church (where he compares the service to the Broadway show The Lion King), goes to Megafest (an annual event at the GA Done featuring TD Jakes), attends an Easter sunrise service at Stone Mountain, visits a pentecostal healing service with his wife's grandmother, attends a Faith Day baseball game at Turner field, participates in Catholic confession, and even goes to a Christian wrestling match. Along the way, he also visits more mainstream churches each week, although he only mentions 3 by name. With each experience he questions bits and pieces but also manages to find common ground between his faith and that of the worshippers he visits. For example after commenting on some of less understood, stranger traditions of the Mormon church, he also points out that some components of Jewish worship are no doubt just as strange to those not familiar with it. He doesn’t exactly poke fun and never judges other faiths, but at the same time he questions without being disrespectful.

I actually learned quite a bit while reading this – not only about the customs and traditions of Orthodox Judaism but also about my own Christian faith. It was extremely interesting to read about the perspective of an outsider who is not familiar with it. The author does a great job of explaining the tenets of Judaism (primarily the significance of prayer, explaining that “giving thanks to everything to God before every act we do is a ‘constant and unrelenting’ reminder that we are put on this earth for one reason and one reason only – to sanctify God through everything we do.” Ironically, Cohen’s wife converted to Orthodox Judaism from Christianity (her father was a minister), and needless to say, although supportive of her husband, she was not thrilled at Cohen’s plan. The author is very excited that he can actually experience Christmas for the first time in his life in the context of his year-long project and even tries to convince his wife to put up a Christmas tree (she says no.)

Cohen is very insightful and also very funny. There were several passages where I laughed out loud at his commentary. At one point, Cohen summarizes Judaism in 3 phrases – “someone tried to kill us, God intervened, now let’s eat.” And of course, part of the reason I enjoyed this so much is because the author and I live in the same city, so I was very familiar with most of the events and churches he visited. At times, his reflections are very poignant as he discusses his personal struggles. He ends his year-long project by visiting the “mysterious” and elusive church across the street from where he grew up, only to be extremely disappointed by his anticlimactic visit. I would recommend this book to anyone who has struggled with their faith, regardless of what specifically it is, and who has ever wondered about other faiths. As he writes, “it felt comforting to realize that frustration with faith is not religion-specific. We all lapse at some point to some degree. What I’ve found out this year, though, is it’s how we rebound that will ultimately define us.” This is not a new realization for me, but I deeply appreciated his perspective on his own personal struggle. He concludes by saying, “I learned that God can be found in the unlikeliest of places. I learned not to judge others. I learned that people of faith have more similarities than differences. I learned that the first step is always the hardest. And when my faith occasionally wanes, as it does for all of us, I can draw on these experiences to bolster me.”
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