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‘What’s the deal with…?’

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04/14/2016

'What's the deal with…?' photo

There's a bestselling book out about curiosity. It's written by a Hollywood producer who has spent his free time asking questions of interesting and accomplished strangers for the last 35 years.

In the book titled A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer -- who produced films like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind -- met with people from all walks of life with skill sets very different from his own.

Among them: pop culture artist Jeff Koons; the inventor of the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk; the king of pop, Michael Jackson; etiquette maven and Jacqueline Kennedy's social secretary, Letitia Baldridge; and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Grazer's purpose in these "curiosity conversations," as he calls them, was meant to broaden himself and his worldview on things he knew little about.

His project sparked my interest both as a journalist and a Jew. First, I entered the field of journalism in large part because I'm curious about people and what makes them tick. My day job enables me to spend many waking hours asking people probing questions, which inspire me to live my own life in a more meaningful way.

The idea of curiosity conversations resonates for us as Jews too. Questioning, after all, is a deeply Jewish activity. The very Talmud itself is based on rabbis questioning and debating the Torah with each other. And, in the pop culture realm, look no further than the quintessentially Jewish show Seinfeld, where Jerry has spent a career asking "What's the deal with… [insert life's peskiest, silliest musings here]?"

Our tradition allows space for us to ask the tough questions, and to be okay with uncertainty in life, faith, and, yes, even God.

Professor and Holocaust survivor and sage Elie Wiesel, who was an observant Jew as a boy before the war, wrestled with God about suffering during his time in the camps, and even questioned whether God exists. 'Where is God now?' Wiesel asks in his famed Holocaust memoir Night.

One of the things I love about being Jewish is there is space to ask questions; our tradition recognizes that not everything is absolute. There are, of course, Jews out there whose faith rarely wavers and then there are other Jewish people who aren't quite as certain. I meet Jewish agnostics and atheists who consider themselves part of the Jewish community.

This month, we will celebrate Passover, a holiday that invites questions. And along with the perennial Seder questions like "Why is this night different from all other nights?," Jews, this year and every year, have a lot of other big questions on their mind.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are we free when others are still oppressed? What is the most unique and precious gift we can each leave the world? How can we help others not as lucky as ourselves? Who the heck will be our next president? How will the world be different for our children than it was for us? How can fill we fill our days with meaning and love?

But maybe we're not supposed to have life all figured out by the time we get to a certain age because how dull would that be?

Maybe the real wisdom lies, not in knowing all the answers, but in knowing that it's okay to ask the questions.

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