November 9, 2008
Jesus at the Jewish book festival
My church, Bel Air Presbyterian, is down Mulholland Drive from American Jewish University. So after we got out at 12:15 this morning, I headed to the other side of the 405 and slipped into the memoir discussion at the Celebration of Jewish Books (and later avoided Jonathan Safran Foer’s talk).
One of the panelists was David Matthews, not the musician, but the author, whose memoir about facing discrimination as the son of a black nationalist father and a Jewish mother I just ordered. Another panelist, and the reason I popped into this session, was Benyamin Cohen, or Bizarro Brad as you will come to see.
Cohen, son of an Orthodox rabbi, spent a year wandering the Bible Belt in search of something to revitalize his faith. Cohen was never really looking for Jesus. However, he wanted to figure out what made Christians so spiritually fervent. What he found at churches and Christian concerts and even a Catholic confessional caused him to appreciate his own religious tradition more and lays the foundation for his book, “My Jesus Year.”
Cohen’s book doesn’t denigrate Christianity or speak condescendingly of it. The most apparent emotion is Cohen’s own guilt for spending time in the forbidden zone—in fact, he had to visit several rabbis before one would approve of his attending church, even as a journalist. Cohen’s primary hope is that Jewish leaders will see what’s working at churches and apply that to their own houses of worship—save for that whole Jesus thing.
“I look at the book,” Cohen said at the book festival, “as a love letter to Christians.”
I reviewed the book for this week’s Jewish Journal. An excerpt is after the jump: