One day a Georgia-born son of an Orthodox rabbi discovers that his enthusiasm for Judaism is flagging. He observes the Sabbath, he goes to synagogue, and he even flies to New York on weekends for a series of “speed dates” with nice, eligible Jewish girls. But, something is missing. Looking out of his window and across the street at one of the hundreds of churches in Atlanta, he asks, “What would it be like to be a Christian?”
So begins Benyamin Cohen’s hilarious journey that is My Jesus Year– part memoir, part spiritual quest, and part anthropologist’s mission. Among Cohen’s many adventures (and misadventures), he finds himself in some rather unlikely places: jumping into a mosh-pit at a Christian rock concert, seeing his face projected on the giant JumboTron of an African-American megachurch, visiting a potential convert with two young Mormon missionaries, attending a Christian “professional wrestling” match, and waking up early for a sunrise Easter service on top of Stone Mountain- a Confederate memorial and former base of operations for the KKK.
During his year-long exploration, Cohen sees the best and the worst of Christianity- from megachurches to storefront churches; from crass commercialization of religion to the simple, moving faith of the humble believer; from the profound to the profane to the just plain laughable. Throughout, he keeps an open heart and mind, a good sense of humor, and takes what he learns from Christianity to reflect on his own faith and relationship to God. By year’s end, to Cohen’s surprise, his search for universal answers and truths in the Bible Belt actually make him a better Jew.
How many times have you started reading a book with a preconceived idea of how you would like it? I certainly did so with this book. The premise sounds eerily similar to that of The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, which to this day remains my all time favorite book. And because Jacobs offers a cover quote for My Jesus Year, it was easy to assume this memoir was going to be very similar.
But talk about being pleasantly surprised! Done from an anthropological perspective, Cohen does something I’ve talked about doing for years! I’ve often wondered and considered exploring different churches every weekend just to see how different people worship. My motives have never been to rethink my religion as I’m confident in my beliefs and where I am with them. But for pure interest sake, it has always appealed to me to visit neighborhood and local churches of different denominations. That is exactly what Cohen does for an entire year. (Well, sort of. He kind of leans toward the other extreme visiting a Christian wrestling match, a Christian rock concert, megachurches, as well as a monastery; so on and so forth…)
Born Jewish and the son of a Rabbi, Cohen’s quest is more profound in the sense that he is exploring his religion and seeking knowledge and thirsting for that closeness to God. In a rut with Judaism he dives into Christianity, in a new location every single weekend for one year. While still observing Sabbath on Saturday, Cohen went to Christian churches on Sundays as well. Again, for an entire year. That seems overwhelming to experience that much that often.
While reading laugh out loud funny (once I got past my predetermined judgments of how the book would read), this is one of the wittiest memoirs I’ve ever come across. The depth to his conclusions after visiting a new church or Christian body are astounding and surprising. Cohen writes with a sincerity that will appeal to every reader no matter your religion or lack thereof.
His humor is engaging, his story is intriguing and his memoir is both revealing and enjoyable. I’m happy to share this book (which I had purchased a few years ago) with over 30 swappers on the wish list on PaperBackSwap. This is a story that should be shared and I’m glad I finally picked it up to read.