Book Review: My Jesus Year


My Jesus Year: A Rabbi's Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith
by Benyamin Cohen


Open, honest and moving, December 15, 2008


It might seem paradoxical that an Orthodox Jew can be considered a seeker. After all, isn't the heart of orthodoxy its rigid (even joyful) adherence to minute regulations?

Benyamin Cohen is the odd man in his family. The son of an Orthodox Rabbi in Atlanta, he is the only one among his siblings not to have become a rabbi or to marry one. Unwilling to shuck his faith, he is nonetheless desperate for something deeper than what he sees as a sort of bondage to the continual blessings and washings that are part and parcel of Orthodoxy. While not wanting to become Christian, he is curious about the majority US faith, and wonders whether Orthodoxy can learn something from it. The result is a year-long odyssey among the goyim, starting with his convert-wife's evangelical family and penetrating into the often strange world of Christian worship.

It would have been easy for Cohen to have lampooned Christianity as practiced in the Bible Belt. He quickly runs into the kind of hucksterism that often gives the faith a bad name. The purveyors of the Prosperity Gospel, who sells believers on the idea that God wants you to be rich, fill stadiums while cynically emptying bank accounts. But Cohen also encounters Christians whose quieter faith sustains them through illness and difficulty. It's the good heart of this book that Cohen is genuinely moved by the sick who find strength and solace (if not physical healing) in God's presence.

"My Jesus Year" is very funny, smart and well-written. While shining a light on seldom-seen corner of the Christian experience (Christian *wrestling*, anyone?) it also provides a rare glimpse into the world of Orthodox Judaism as experienced by one young man. Cohen's description of the Orthodox New York dating scene -- to which he literally had to fly across the country several times a month during his twenties -- held all the cute desperation of dating the world over. Cohen has written about the spiritual quest from a very real and very modern point of view. His book should be an inspiration to any open-minded religious person looking to deepen their faith journey from the perspective of their own religious idiom.