Over the last three decades, the American Jewish communal public sphere has been flooded with sociodemographic concerns about numerical decline, and a sense of threatened ability to maintain a vibrant collective life. This article argues that this discursive site functions as a means, or technique, for the emotionalisation of Jewish identity and citizenship in the community.
The article shows that public discourses on what is known by now as ‘the Jewish continuity crisis’ are shaped by an emotionalising feature of anxiety. Anxiety serves, all at once, as a tone-setter, an anchor of communal identity, and an object of debate: it sets an intensified volume, assigns its interlocutors particular emotionalised tags, and has also provoked its own fire as an emotional style. On the one hand, the organised community struggles with – that is, it suffers from – deeply entrenched anxieties about how to secure the future of American Jewry. On the other hand, the organised community struggles with having anxiety as such a defining position from which to work towards continuity and to articulate Jewishness. Ultimately, continuity is often taken as a communal struggle, with demographic and affiliation trends, but anxiety is in itself a source of struggle as well. I analyse this double-edged public dynamic, and argue that emotionality in itself constitutes a key component of involvement in the Jewish community. This component develops not only along and against the grain of anxiety, but also against the grain of indifference.