Challenge Your Certainties, Question The Clarity

February 13, 2024

by Hagar Harpak

The world doesn’t encourage us to question our place in it. Society doesn’t want you to challenge your certainties. We are programmed to seek clear answers, trained to not poke at the status quo. We learn from a young age to go along with what’s presented to us. It’s much easier to have a clear answer. But questioning is how we grow, and how we can make more room for one another.

I usually don’t think too much about being Jewish. I’m not religious. Didn’t grow up religious. I’ve always considered myself Jew-ish. My Jewish connection has more to do with culture, with humor, with stories, with family, and with a core connection to a tapestry of horrors that my ancestors were woven through. But I’ve never felt close to that core. That core belongs to genes of genocide that I have always felt far enough removed from. Not far enough, I guess. 

Underneath all the different shapes and names and forms and intersections of my identity, there’s a quiet, yet undeniable breath of Jewishness. 


The past few months have put a dent in many of my anchors. Many of the people I thought were allies turned out not to be. People I thought were smart, educated, and compassionate turned into a hateful herd. Groups of people I thought would stand by my right to exist, turned their backs on the obviousness of that right. And I have been facing within me very difficult questions, painful doubts, and shaken confidence in some of my world views. 

Dents, doubts, and discomfort are important. Few are the people who are ready to do so, but to grapple with reality, with uncomfortable truths, with a world that doesn’t add up, and a life that is more complex and complicated than we’d like it to be, is necessary. It is necessary if we actually want justice and equality and fairness, if we actually care about humanity as well as the more than human world. As challenging as it may be, I don’t want to ever arrive at certainty. 

The certainty of religion has proven over and over again, across continents and history, that if there’s no room for argument, no room for doubt, there’s no room for growth. If there’s no room for questioning, there’s no room for each other.

When someone leaves their Jewish faith, it’s called; Lachzor B’She’ela, which translates from Hebrew into; “to return in question.” Leaving behind the religion, they still remain Jewish. What makes someone Jewish is a complex network of meanings. It’s also a genetic thing. It’s ancestral. It’s non linear. It’s the mother line. It’s not a clear answer. The most beautiful thing about it is that it’s not obvious to point at what makes someone Jewish. What makes someone Jewish remains a question. 

These last few months have taught me that the safety of my loved ones and of myself are breakable. That my convictions are shakable. I am constantly reminded of how important it is to keep our beliefs in question. 

The last few months have brought difficult questions to the forefront of my mind:

Is my safety more important than other people’s safety?

Is it worth killing these people in order to save these other ones?

How do we protect ourselves without destroying others? Is there a way? What’s the way?

We need some concrete ideas, but not definitive answers. 

And it stays a question because if my kids or my parents or my sister or my niece were held as hostages in Gaza, I’ll be brutally honest with you, I wouldn’t care how many other people have to die in order to save my loved ones. Think about it for a moment. Take a breath. Let your righteous, reactive self soften. And be honest with yourself. Take another breath. Put yourself in as many shoes as possible. Because if I was a Palestinian mother and my baby was dead, I would also not exactly cheer for the Israeli army. Let’s be perfectly clear about that. 

These are not questions we’re supposed to answer with any kind of certainty. But I think these are questions we must grapple with. 

I cry for my Israeli family and I worry about my Jewish children. I cry for the Palestinian mothers and their babies. I shed tears for the loss of every innocent life. I question what innocence means these days. Was the 18 year old dead Israeli soldier who was a peace activist, and who is obligated to fight in a war he doesn’t believe in – was he not innocent? And I question the justifications we make in our heads for actions unforgivable. On both sides. I question strength and weakness and wisdom and the world. I question meanings, values, and connections. 

I’ve never been more concerned about being Jewish. I’ve always felt uneasy about being Israeli. And yet, it’s part of who I am, whether I like it or not. I’m much more Falafel than I am Gefilte Fish, much more Mediterranean than Eastern European. I’ve criticized the occupation my entire life. And I probably always will. I’ll be the first among many to speak against the current government, to condemn the actions of the settlers, and to fight for peace. I’ll stand together with my Palestinian brothers and sisters. But I will not abandon my Jewish Israeli family. 

We all belong there in that land of milk and honey, among the olives and the figs. That land is not ours. Not theirs. We all are of that land. We’re not going anywhere. They’re not going anywhere. We have to find ways to work together. 

We will question our identities and our belonging, our commitment and our relationship. We will question each other and ourselves. It’s the questioning that will keep us moving toward peace, not our certainty. We will need to move not knowing, not trusting, not believing. We will need to move toward each other with doubt and with openness. We will need to return in question. And return again. And again. 

Check out Standing Together and support this organization that helps Palestinians and Israelis work together for the safety of both Jews and Arabs.

April 23, 2024

April 18, 2024

April 16, 2024

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Call In Your Muse & Live Life As Art

Get our FREE guide to spark your life - 25 ideas to move into your magic:


By entering your info, you’ll also join our mailing list and receive muse-filled messages - and you can unsubscribe anytime.