Arts & Culture
Moses in a Megachurch
Benyamin Cohen, author of My Jesus Year, is guest blogging this week as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch bloggers. Cohen is the son of an Orthodox rabbi and is married to the daughter of a Christian minister. His book is … Read More
Benyamin Cohen, author of My Jesus Year, is guest blogging this week as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch bloggers. Cohen is the son of an Orthodox rabbi and is married to the daughter of a Christian minister. His book is about his journey through America’s Bible Belt.
Most likely, I’m going to hell. Not just to the heated nether regions where rank-and-file thieves, crooks, and Republicans hang out. If only I was so lucky. Instead, I’ll be bypassing the guest entrance to the devil’s playground and be sent, first-class, through the VIP ropes to where Beelzebub and his sidekick Andy Dick down Cristal.
Unfortunately, I have a feeling I’ll be part of their new entourage. It’s not that I committed murder or tricked unsuspecting email users to send their bank information to a little-known Nigerian prince. If only. My sin, dear readers, was far worse. It’s a long story, one riddled with guilt, regret, and the occasional Communion wafer. Space constraints and my own desire to mask what I’ve done forbid me from going into too much detail, but I’ll offer up the highlight reel. I feel a confession is in order. I’m a rabbi’s son. Not just any rabbi’s son, but the rabbi’s son. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I took everything you taught me, flushed it down the toilet, and married a minister’s daughter. Wait, it gets better.
I’ve spent the past year going to a different church every Sunday. 52 Sundays, 52 churches. As if that wasn’t heresy enough, I threw in some monks, a Christian rock concert, missionizing with Mormons and, oh yeah, celebrating Christmas with my new in-laws. Last year, on the day before Yom Kippur, I took my wife’s evangelical grandmother to a Christian archaeology exhibit. Repentance, atonement, the furthest things from my mind. Move over, Andy Dick. But a funny thing happened on my way to exploring Christianity. It made me a better Jew. Allow me to explain. Please. For years I had looked longingly at the church across the street from my childhood home, its pristine landscape looming just outside my bedroom window. I watched, transfixed, each Sunday morning as the khaki-clad parishioners and their smiling progeny emerged from their shiny SUVs and walked into the sun-dappled, stained-glass sanctuary.
They had it easy. As for me, well, it was as if I had left the uterus with a yarmulke on my head and a Talmud already in my hand. All I was missing was a beard. A certain prescribed lifestyle was all I knew. I was brought up with certain expectations of who I was and who I should become. But not Johnny Christian. He seemed to just have it easier, unencumbered by the history of persecution we felt as Jews. In my eyes, Christian children seemed to go through life with a laissez-faire attitude I could only dream about. They didn’t have to worry how long their sideburns were or wait six hours between eating meat and milk. I felt lost, a traveler without a compass. I didn’t feel a connection to my own religion. What’s worse, the religion of others was tempting me, so close and yet so far away. Fast forward to my 52 weeks of church-hopping. I did it all. And when I was done, burdened by the yoke of the crimes I had just committed, I did what any Jew pretending to be a Christian would do: I went to Confession. The priest, unaware that the congregant across the grated screen belonged not only to another house of worship but also to another religion altogether, gave me prescient advice. "Go to services more often," he told me. This seemed odd. After all, I had been going to services. Catholic ones. Baptist ones. Mormon ones. I even spent the day with a Christian wrestler. (Don’t ask.) Several Hail Marys later, I decided to heed the priest’s words of wisdom and go to services more often. As an Orthodox Jew, I pray three times a day, so this wasn’t hard. But this time, returning to synagogue after a year of experimenting with other faiths, the services had more meaning. I appreciated my Judaism more. For the first time since my bar mitzvah, I felt at home in my own skin. I guess it’s true what they say: The grass is not greener at the church across the street. It took going out of my comfort zone, being a stranger in a strange land, to make me realize just how much I cherish my faith. I now have newfound appreciation for the prayers, the people, and the public rituals. It seems odd to say it, but I guess it’s true. Hanging out with Jesus has made me a better Jew. Hallelujah. Praise the Lord. And Amen to that.