Monday, March 30, 2009

My Jesus Year by Benyamin Cohen

The full title of this book is My Jesus Year: A Rabbi's Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith.  

...and he had to find a rabbi who would grant him permission to do it in order to write this book.  He had to search for this rabbi because he got turned down a couple of times from others.  I myself have visited several different denominations of churches (Protestant and Catholic), though never a synagogue (would I be allowed to visit?), and have never had to ask permission.  

Benyamin Cohen is an Orthodox Jew who grew up across the street from a Methodist church.  As a young child he yearned to visit that church, utterly convinced that something magical took place inside.  His mother died young, leaving a large family somewhat adrift.  To his father's consternation, Benyamin was the only one of his sons who did not become a rabbi.  Even Benyamin's sisters married rabbis.

Now thinking about middle age more than he'd like and looking for a wife (a highly complicated and expensive venture for an Orthodox Jew..I could NeVeR have imagined), Benyamin finds his spirituality lagging.  There are many laws and daily observances to take up his spiritual time, but he's doesn't feel as if he's getting much out of it.  He does find the woman of his dreams though, ironically, she converted to Orthodox Judaism from Christianity (she was a PK!).  He talks about, with no little wonder, the fact that she voluntarily chose the religion that he was born forcefully into.  

But this takes up only the first chapter or so of the book.  In the rest of the book, and what he really had to get permission from a rabbi for, Cohen takes a year to visit every Christian church function, sporting event, rally, etc that he can get into in order to try and get to the bottom of what Christians find so exciting about their faith.  Cohen gently pokes fun at some of the silly things that Christians do while marveling at their excitement over what he frequently finds so tedious about his Judaism.  Prayer, holidays, daily conduct, love, dating, marriage, and even food get a studious examination from Cohen and I was utterly delighted from start to finish.  He gave a hint of insight into some of the laws those of the Jewish faith live by while scraping years of rust off some of the traditions Christians practice for reasons sometimes forgotten.

A fun and funny book that I highly recommend!  It got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: 
A delicious olio of guilt, longing, surprise, wonder, unease, and of course humor, Cohen's quest has univeral appeal.  One need not be Jewish, Christian or even a seeker to enjoy this wonderful loop around the Bible Belt.

No comments: