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Jesus, many Christians might tell you, saved their lives.
Benyamin Cohen, founder and editor of American Jewish Life and Jewsweek, credits the carpenter with helping to save his faith.
At first glance, you might think Cohen’s story would be markedly different from most (unless, of course, you too are the son of an Orthodox rabbi who attached a 1,000-square-foot synagogue to your family’s home).
But his journey, documented in his new book, “My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith,” articulates fairly universal spiritual struggles.
The misery-loves-company crowd may take solace simply in that.
But for folks in the midst of the spiritual doldrums and looking for some hope — and maybe even a solution — Cohen might be just the man to help lead them out of the wilderness.
It won’t be easy. Readers will need to try to set aside any penchant for judging others, and they’ll likely have to play the part of your own cruise director.
At the journey’s end, though, they just might end up with a better appreciation for their own faith, not to mention that of their neighbors.
At least, that’s how it seems to have worked for Cohen.
The trouble for Cohen began relatively early.
Growing up, religion was served “on a silver platter — whether we wanted it or not.” Still, Cohen notes, as religious as his family was, he never actually understood Judaism’s fundamentals.
It bothered him. So Cohen, who grew up across from a Methodist church that he was instructed not to visit, decided to spend a year immersed in Christianity.
He didn’t want to convert. He just wanted to understand Christianity’s appeal.
“And,” he writes, “as crazy as this sounds, I’m looking to Jesus to make me a better Jew.”
After receiving a rabbi’s blessing, he set out on his mission.
Along the way, he stopped in at churches of all kinds — mega- and mainline, Catholic and Protestant. He met with members of the Black Hebrews, a group whose members claim they’re descended from the 10 lost tribes of Israel, and went out visiting with Mormon missionaries.
Often enough, he gleaned spiritual insight from his encounters, like when he visited the Atlanta Braves’ Turner Field for Faith Day.
“I’ve got to admit that at first I didn’t understand Christians’ desire to commingle faith with baseball,” he writes. “It seemed heretical at worst, trite at best.”
But Cohen found that by mixing the sacred with the mundane, “they were able to transform baseball into something holy.”
The idea resonated. In Judaism, he notes, “we say blessings on just about everything we do,” and as result, transform run-of-the-mill tasks into holy acts.
While such a practice may sound inspiring to those who don’t say a paragraph-long blessing after going to the bathroom, Cohen writes that he recites so many daily blessings and prayers that he no longer looks at them as something special.
“It’s a real challenge to make every blessing count and be relevant,” he writes. But after witnessing Faith Day, he reflects:
“Maybe I shouldn’t knock myself out for never concentrating on the after-bathroom blessing. Instead, maybe I should choose one time each day and make that my `Faith Day blessing.’ Try elevating the mundane just one time. It’s what Jesus would do, and I’m starting to see that.”
By the time the year ends, Cohen writes that his doubts and concerns have been allayed and that the embers of true religious enthusiasm have been ignited.
He is, to be clear, still a Jew. But that faith is no longer simply the faith of his father. It’s his.
(Kristen Campbell writes for The Mobile Press-Register in Mobile, Ala.)
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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