The basic problem with Jewish life today is its overwhelming emphasis on crisis. We fight. We “weigh in”. We identify enemies and proclaim loyalties. We hold high-level meetings to discuss our “brand”. We defend Israel as though our lives were at stake or criticize Israel with the passion of a democratic evangelist. We accost those Jews who fail to enlist in the cause, as though any minute we may need them to storm Washington, as we did in the decades when a million of our brethren were imprisoned behind Soviet lines.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with combating activism or fighting the Iranian bomb. There are dangers out there, both political forces and simple ignorance that put Jewish life at risk. Our crises are not manufactured. But just as an individual’s life cannot be defined solely through his struggle for survival, isn’t there something disturbing about a Jewish identity defined principally by the constant effort to put a halt to terrible things? Welcome to fire extinguisher Judaism.
What’s missing is a coherent content to our identity, a positive message, a set of beloved things and ideas – other than ourselves and our organizations and the state we’ve built – to which we proclaim allegiance, in which we invest time and effort to understand, which we embrace as possessing the keys to ourselves and our future.
David Hazony, “Welcome to Fire Extinguisher Judaism” Moment (May/June 2010), 20.