Tonight begins the Jewish holiday of Passover and that means a night full of questions and discussion around the Passover seder table. A core part of the seder ritual is the asking of four principle questions. These four questions are traditionally sung by the youngest child at the table. What many don't realize, however, is that these four questions are only the basis for the symposium that is the seder. Seder participants should continue asking questions throughout the "talk feast" in order to generate interesting discussion.
We Jewish people have historically been a people that loves asking questions. In fact, a famous Jewish joke plays on that fact. Question: Why do Jews always respond to questions with another question? -Why not?
In the spirit of asking questions comes a wonderful contribution from Read the Spirit Books and Michigan State University's School of Journalism. Last month, they released the slim paperback book, 100 Questions and Answers About American Jews. This compact guide opens with a foreword by comedian Rabbi Bob Alper and an introduction by Michigan State professor Kirsten Fermaglich.
For many years -- even before I was ordained as a rabbi -- I've been using Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's encyclopedia-like book "Jewish Literacy" to teach those interested in learning more about Judaism as well as those in classes leading toward Jewish conversion. I will continue to use that resource, but this simple book will serve as a useful introductory guide for the non-Jewish parents of those who are seeking conversion to Judaism. It will also be a quick and easy reader for non-Jews who simply want to understand more about the basics of Judaism.
This is the 10th guidebook to cross-cultural issues published by a group at Michigan State University's Journalism School and the first that takes on the Jewish faith as a subject. Many local Jewish leaders from the Detroit Jewish community contributed to the book to ensure accuracy and balance. Led by Joe Grimm at Michigan State University's School of Journalism, classes of students who call themselves "Bias Busters" meet each academic term to research, write and edit a new guide. As a journalist, Grimm is known nationwide as a leading expert in cross-cultural communication, beginning as the ombudsman, an editor at the Detroit Free Press and a columnist for the Poynter Institute. The concept of the Bias Busters classes, and this resulting series of guidebooks, is to teach cultural competence by spreading awareness about a certain group or community. Ultimately, the goal is to break down cultural walls and open up discourse among groups.
I wasn't surprised to hear the process for how this book begins because it sounds very familiar to when I speak in front of non-Jewish groups and ask the attendees to submit questions about Judaism. The type of questions I receive are very familiar to the questions asked and answered in this book. The ultimate goal of this project is to bridge cultures, but a wonderful byproduct is the creation of a useful, inexpensive and easy-to-use guide that can be offered to those curious about Judaism or looking to have a better understanding of their friends, neighbors or co-workers.