He Likes Jesus. He Just Doesn't 'Like' Like Him.
Benyamin Cohen doesn't remember his circumcision. He was only eight days old. But he still feels the indelible scar left by that single slice.
"The ceremony involved a scalpel, a lot of pain, and an emotional dent that would leave me reeling for years to come," Cohen writes in his memoir, My Jesus Year: A Rabbi's Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith. "This is how I was introduced to religion."
The Cohanim are religious royalty in Judaism: their place in the rabbinate stretches from God's first priest, Aaron, to Cohen's father. Against expectations, however, Benyamin chose a career in journalism, not Jewish spiritual life.
By most measures, Cohen, the founding editor of American Jewish Life magazine, remained a super-Jew. But over time, Orthodox Jewish observance began to feel stale; attending synagogue daily and saying blessings for business as mundane as using the restroom suffocated his spirituality.
So the lifelong Atlantan went looking for Jesus.
Cohen wasn't looking to convert. In fact, his wife, whose father was a Methodist minister, had done the opposite, converting to Judaism before they married. But he wanted to know what all the fuss was about, why so many Christians, particularly evangelicals in the megachurches dotting his hometown, were so jazzed for Jesus.
In the spirit of Mark I. Pinsky's A Jew among the Evangelicals and A. J. Jacobs's The Year of Living Biblically, Cohen set out to be a stranger in a stranger land. Over the course of 52 weeks, Cohen, wearing a yarmulke and his press credentials, attends a Pentecostal revival where cancer is cured and the pastor prays for miracles in the form of gold teeth fillings; goes all out celebrating Christmas and Easter; appears on "Jesus' JumboTron" at an African American megachurch; takes Communion; and enters a Catholic confessional.
His Jesus journey left him "feeling born-again" — as a Jew.
"I'm getting a fresh start and being reborn," he writes. "At the Georgia Dome, among forty thousand Christians, on Easter, the day of resurrection."
I had anticipated reading Cohen's memoir since learning of it in the spring. I saw in its premise, and in Cohen's portrait, a mirror image of myself. Bizarro Brad, if you will.
Borrowing a characteristically short phrase that Cohen repeats throughout his book: Let me explain.
Both my grandmothers were Jewish. So too was my paternal grandfather, from whom the name Greenberg comes. But my mom was confirmed Catholic and my dad never became bar mitzvahed. When I was young, my parents met at Protestantism, and I continue today to be a God-fearing, church-going Christian.
Last year, though, I joined The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, making the move from the Los Angeles Daily News with an impetus as personal as it was professional.
I had been fascinated since becoming a religion reporter a few years before with understanding my split identity: To the outside world, I was Jewish, but to anybody who knew me, I was Christian. I thought working in the Jewish community would help me sort myself out.