A Time to Every Pur­pose: Let­ters to a Young Jew

  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

Thir­teen let­ters from Jonathan Sar­na to his daugh­ter form the heart of this warm, ten­der book, let­ters that exam­ine the cen­tral themes of Judaism in rela­tion to the Jew­ish hol­i­day cycle. Many hol­i­days not gen­er­al­ly writ­ten about, such as Holo­caust Remem­brance Day, Israel Inde­pen­dence Day, and Tu be-Av, a hol­i­day that cel­e­brates love and mar­riage, get full atten­tion here. The book par­tic­u­lar­ly address­es top­ics of inter­est to young peo­ple, includ­ing assim­i­la­tion, inter­faith mar­riage, social jus­tice, the envi­ron­ment, and happiness.

An expe­ri­enced author and his­to­ry pro­fes­sor at Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty, Sar­na sees Judaism as both a way of life and a way to expe­ri­ence fam­i­ly, his­to­ry, the world. He offers a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of view­points as he speaks to young Jews, but his refresh­ing ideas will res­onate with Jews of all ages. His words do not evoke one par­tic­u­lar move­ment over anoth­er, and will be wel­comed by all who want to bet­ter under­stand the Jew­ish view of major themes in con­tem­po­rary life.

Rem­i­nis­cent of an eth­i­cal will, in which a Jew leaves as a lega­cy the ideas that mean the most to him or her, the book was inspired by Sarna’s daugh­ter as she became a young adult, and each chap­ter begins, Dear Leah…” and ends, Love, Abba.” Index, notes, sug­ges­tions for fur­ther reading.

Sec­ond Review of A Time to Every Purpose

By Nor­man H. Finkelstein

Those famil­iar with Jonathan Sarna’s pre­vi­ous works will be pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by the for­mat and con­tent of his lat­est book, A Time to Every Pur­pose.Writ­ten as a series of lov­ing let­ters to his daugh­ter, Sar­na draws on his roots as an emi­nent his­to­ri­an to present the con­flict­ing choic­es fac­ing young peo­ple (and old­er folks, too) about being Jew­ish in con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­ca. Tak­ing us through the Jew­ish cal­en­dar, Dr. Sar­na writes intro­spec­tive and per­son­al sea­son­al” let­ters which not only pro­vide spe­cif­ic infor­ma­tion about each hol­i­day but chal­lenge the read­er to con­sid­er how the sto­ries and rit­u­al of each hol­i­day shape our spir­i­tu­al and reli­gious lives. This is not a book with didac­tic solu­tions to the ques­tion of Jew­ish con­ti­nu­ity but with open-end­ed choic­es. Will you study Judaism, prac­tice Judaism, and then trans­mit Judaism, some­day, to your own chil­dren?” The under­ly­ing mes­sage to his daugh­ter and to us is that the Jew­ish future rests in your hands.” This won­der­ful book, prob­a­bly the short­est of all his titles, has the great­est poten­tial to reach a large and diverse audi­ence. While writ­ten from the heart to a beloved child, this book should be required read­ing for any­one — teenag­er, par­ent, or poten­tial con­vert — curi­ous about what it means to be Jew­ish in Amer­i­ca today.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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