The Importance of Asking Questions

by Dr. Misha Galperin

In thinking about the New York skyline, my son Ezra recently asked me if the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building were cousins. I guess in a way they are. I was struck by the sweetness of the question but more generally, about the importance of asking good questions.

Every year at Passover time, we are obligated to ask 4 questions at the Seder. If this is a night of memory and story-telling, then the best way to begin is with a set of questions. Questions are inspired by curiosity and inspire more curiosity.

I’ve been thinking a lot abut the art of the question. In the past few weeks I’ve been at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in New Orleans and traveling across the United States. I field and encounter important questions wherever I go. People want to know how the Jewish Agency is changing, the nature of our new strategic plan, and if our core mission has changed. Each question requires time and thoughtfulness.

Far from cowering at these questions, I welcome them. Asking questions is a form of engagement. It shows that we care, that the future matters to us and that we are personally invested in outcomes. I worry when the Jewish community does not ask questions. It shows a level of apathy and disinterest.

I worry that one of the symptoms of disengaged Jews is the failure to ask questions. Why does Judaism matter? Why should I care about Israel? What is meaningful to me and how can Judaism inform that meaning? What does peoplehood mean? All of these questions need to be asked and answered by each of us to make our Jewish lives more vibrant and exciting.

This week, many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving. With everyone at the table, it’s a great time to ask some good questions, and not just how do you cook a turkey? What are you grateful for? How have you changed since last year? What does your country mean to you?

They say of a Jewish Nobel Prize winner in science that he credits his own accomplishments to something his mother said every day when he left the house for school: “Ask good questions.”

Dr. Misha Galperin is President and CEO of the Jewish Agency International Development.