A word of caution: Peoplehood will not work as a rallying cry to the Jewish public, which is post-tribal in its inclinations and commitments. Peoplehood is, rather, an organizing principle to recalibrate and synchronize the Jewish enterprise and philanthropy. It is our future blueprint.

E very once in a while, mostly when I’m feeling like the Jewish People are drifting, I reach into a basket next to my bed, pull out a small black velvet bag and take out a heavy, 200-year-old French coin. It is French. Napoleon is on one side; flip the coin over and Napoleon is there, too, this time receiving the Ten Commandments from a weakened and humbled Moses. The coin celebrates the acceptance by the Jewish people of a New World Order under the Rights of Man.

The historic choice made by the French Sanhedrin in answering Napoleon’s challenge — to define themselves as “Frenchmen of the Mosaic Faith,” rather than as part of the Jewish People — ushered in a new era for humanity and for the Jewish People. Eviscerating our national characteristics paved the way for Jewish individuals as well as for Judaism, both in law and in the public imagination, to be equal to Christians and to Christianity.

The culture of individualism that is so quintessentially American accelerated the equality of Jews and of Judaism. The greatest public relations coup of the Twentieth Century for American Jewry was the mainstreaming of the term “Judaeo-Christian,” which meant that 2 percent of the population had not only equality with the super majority of Americans, but even top billing. This served our community’s public policy interests and assimilationist yearnings.

This remarkable achievement must now be undone, and the artificial Napoleonic split of the essence of our People must be mended.

There is a drastic need for a paradigm shift in planning for a strong Jewish future. With American Jewry having the highest attrition rates of any religious group as well as the lowest belief-in-God quotient, the 200-year compact the Jewish People have had with Western Civilization, and with each other, needs to be altered. Appeals to religious solidarity are ineffective in a Jewish values vacuum. We have to set our sights higher than those of most of our demographers, sociologists, community planners and philanthropists and become advocates for a vision of inspired Jewish Peoplehood in the Twenty-First Century.

Jewish Peoplehood — and its universalistic, noble purpose — must replace the eroding definition of Jews as essentially a faith community.

Neither faith nor nationalism can continue to be the grand, unifying field theories of world Jewry. Only Peoplehood can, because it is inherently inclusive and encompasses religion, nationalism and culture.

The goal should be for a critical mass of our institutions, endeavors, philanthropists and leaders to be engines and agents of Peoplehood.

How can we accomplish this? By recognizing that Jewish values are the building blocks of vibrant Jewish Peoplehood. Jewish values must be the new DNA of our religion, nationalism and culture. They have always been there, but we usually fail at crystallizing what they are, where they came from, how they can be expressed in everyday life and how they inform the actions of our people. Likewise, we have failed to link them to a larger mission for the Jewish People.

Shared values are a trademark of a people. They can be equally relevant to those who consider themselves faith Jews as they can to those whose Judaism is more a matter of nation or culture. And Jewish values are not owned by any denomination, political party or kind of Jew. We will need to define Jewish values in order to enable them to be shared.

What are Jewish values? BabagaNewz, sponsored by AVI CHAI, is an award-winning Jewish values-based kids’ magazine, website and teacher’s guide. The BabagaNewz educational team has been teaching two kinds of Jewish values to kids in 3,500 classrooms: distinctive Jewish values and those values that are shared with other faith communities or with Western Civilization. There are actually very few distinctive Jewish values — Talmud Torah, Yediat Eretz Yisrael, Areivut, etc. — so we seem to share most of our values with others.

Yet, we must be moral archaeologists and dig deeper into those values to find the distinctive Jewish differentiation in either defining, understanding or, most importantly, expressing and acting on those values, particularly in the context of community. We need to align the educational institutions, or at least the messages, across world Jewry’s institutions and instruments of communication to promote Jewish values.

Jewish values are most effectively lived not only in the context of interdependency of people, but also in relation to Jewish time and to Jewish action. When Christianity elevated the place of belief over action, it divorced values from obligation. When Jews come together and synthesize values, time and action, our moral contribution is most powerful. It is an expression of Jewish Peoplehood’s greatest attributes.

Our struggle for communal re-definition is not isolated. It is mirrored in the State of Israel and in other Jewish communities around the world. This would suggest the need for a core curriculum of Jewish values from which all educational endeavors could draw and hopefully coordinate in a rubric of “People­hood Time.” Making the celebration each year of global Jewish Social Action Month during the month of Cheshvan is another example of Peoplehood Time in this new era.

A word of caution: Peoplehood will not work as a rallying cry to the Jewish public, which is post-tribal in its inclinations and commitments. Peoplehood is, rather, an organizing principle to recalibrate and synchronize the Jewish enterprise and philanthropy. It is our future blueprint.

Because the centripetal forces of Western Civilization are more powerful on the individual than are the gravitational forces of Peoplehood, we must increase the density of Peoplehood in order to increase its gravitational pull. This density is created by promoting shared Jewish values and particularism (without parochialism) through formal and informal education. And this education must look anew at every ritual, holiday, Torah portion and law with a view to redefining them in the context of rededicating the Jewish People toward a purpose.

I argue that the purpose of the Jewish People — the essence of Jewish Peoplehood — is to be an ongoing, distinctive catalystfor the advancement and evolution of morality in civilization.

It is ongoing because I am not so faithful to the messianic idea in Judaism; I believe civilization will always need us to be its moral nudniks.

It is distinctive in that we are a unique people, with a unique reading of the human condition, with a unique history, religion, heritage and culture. Maintaining our distinctiveness in an era of cultural globalization is a prerequisite for maintaining our place and role in history.

And on a planet with close to seven billion souls, we can realistically be a catalyst only toward systemic changes rather than the giant implementers of change (and frankly, the catalyst role is basically how it has worked for four thousand years).

In a digital age, we can connect more. The more Jews are connected, the more they will express, at the very least, a familial areivut — mutual responsibility — toward each other. And if we are able to mobilize the collective Jewish imagination to help not only ourselves but also the entire world, then we will have something durable to pass along to future generations of Jews. Instilling a sense of Peoplehood With Purpose, we will be able to answer the age-old question of “Why Be Jewish?” for at least our era and maybe the next.

Yosef Israel Abramowitz, based on Kibbutz Ketura in Israel's Arava Desert, serves as President of the Arava Power Company, a leader in Israel's solar energy sector. Yossi is also founder of Jewish Family & Life! (, a member of Kol Dor and a winner of the Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. He blogs daily at and can be reached at