What It Means to Be Free

March 10, 2021
Ivy Seligman

Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States

Class of 2023

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Many people don't know the meaning of pure freedom in 2021. With the rise of antisemitism and hatred, how can we feel free when we are always waiting for the next threat? I am 15 years old, and I am not alone with this feeling. Teens are on social media, and they witness firsthand, from TikTok to Snapchat, the prejudice against Jews. With the rise of social media, these platforms have become a new avenue to fuel hate. How can we have freedom if we don't have safety and security? Shouldn't those things go hand in hand? My heart aches when I see all the comments and the falsehoods online. My religion can make me feel like a chained bird struggling to breathe for air. At times, I have felt trapped in my heart, ashamed of my identity and my religion. 

I did a Ted Talk at my high school to discuss some of these challenges. I stepped on the stage with trepidation, not knowing what could and would happen. All I knew was I was a girl trying to be free from her chains. As I spoke on anti-semitism and Jewish pride, I looked at my family's faces, the faces that would not want me to be afraid. Then, I looked at my twin sister, who always thought I was so proud of being Jewish, which I am, but sometimes living in America in 2021, the word religious freedom doesn't look the same. It may seem like freedom, but is it? Do the mean comments on social media or the off-color comments to my face justify that? Do hate and violence back the statement of “freedom?” If there was freedom in America, then how come my sister and I experience anti-semitism? How come when we tell people we are Jewish, their expressions convey pity or misunderstanding? Yes, Jewish people are not enslaved, but figuratively, we are slaves to the fact that we can’t even celebrate or come together without some type of hate. I was on a Zoom call about anti-semitism and someone came on the call with a swastika on his stomach. I felt gutted that even in 2021 these symbols of such vulgar hate continue to plague us. Why are some people so comfortable revealing hate at the sacrifice of other people’s freedom? Anti-semitism doesn't define Judaism, and it shouldn't be the reason why we are proud Jews. We should be proud despite that hate. But I feel the problem is we put anti-semitism to the side like it's a “norm” when it should be a precursor to freedom. We aren't free if we have to constantly fear for our safety and security of ourselves and our families. To be free is not to be afraid. I don't think we are at that point yet. We should be proud Jews because of our rich culture and heritage. However, it's hard when there are constant critics who will stop at nothing to hurt and kill for the sole reason of religion. The girl that is trying to “break free” from her chains is literally free, but does that equal what freedom should feel like in America in 2021?

In a world of social media where we like and repost, why can't we “unlike” prejudice and like freedom? To be free is to have accountability for the truth. Even in 2021, our society is not open enough for all of us to be free without judgment or criticism. I am afraid to know if we'll ever be free. People are more comfortable expressing hate, especially behind a computer screen with anonymity.

Our ancestors fought to be free. They fought for religious freedom and freedom for their families, along with themselves. We must continue that fight for true freedom for ourselves and our kids. Even though I am afraid to confront hate, I will never give up my faith and I will never give up on the thought of true freedom. We cannot allow people to spread false conspiracies and lies that encourage violence. There is a sense of misdirection these days, but I have hope during these uncertain times we need to look within ourselves and let go of the weight of hate to be truly free. 

Ivy Seligman is a BBG from Northern Region East: Northern Virginia Council. She is an active member of her school's debate team and loves reality TV.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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