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To be free is to dance on Ben Yehuda Street

Editor’s Note: The Forward’s Youth Essay Contest is asking middle and high school students to submit essays, short stories and poems on the topic “What It Means To Be Free.” We’re still accepting entries at [email protected] — you can find the entry guidelines here.The deadline is Friday, April 17. Today, we’re proud to publish this essay by Emma Keith, a 16-year-old student at Newburyport High School in Newburyport, Mass. We’ll be publishing more exciting new voices soon.

I came alive when the sun sank into the sky, covering the world in a blanket of black abyss on the late summer night of July 6th.

Emma Keith

Youth Writing Essay Contestant: Emma Keith is a 16-year-old student at Newburyport High School. Image by Courtesy of Emma Keith

The yellow glow of lampposts illuminate the street and reflect in my amber eyes. I grip my black maxi skirt, exposing my knees, and stride down Ben Yehuda Street with my newest Israeli friend. I look over at Abby on my left, who wears her most recent purchase of hazelnut ice cream on the corners of her mouth.

Together, we make our way down to the line of high-end stores until the street flows into a square filled with benches, which create a temporary skate park where an abundance of free-spirited kids practice their tricks. The bass of a pedestrian’s speaker fills the air, spewing Hebrew words in a string of increasingly elevated sound waves, creating a tsunami of rhythmic harmony.

In awe of the skateboarders’ intricate tricks, I don’t realize that Abby is no longer standing next to me; she’s dancing. Enticed by the music, she’s jumping up and down — by herself.

Soon she is joined by others, and before I know it, a young Israeli man grabs my hand, and I am now a piece in the puzzle of pulsating chaotic energy on our makeshift old stone dance floor. I’m being twirled like the ballerina in my bubbeh’s old jewelry case I once envied. The world around me becomes a blur, and my sea of chocolate curls begin to defy gravity. The corners of my mouth climb, like my ancestors hiking up Mt. Masada, reaching so high they push my eyes into two thin half-crescent moons, exposing two rows of teeth usually hidden behind a safety blanket of lips.

I’m jumping up and down, surrounded by layers of Jews who pump their fists in the air, and recite lyrics in their perfect native language. My feet thwap the ground in a stupid-American-teen-jumping-bean kind of way. My neck thrown back, eyes locked on the stars glistening above me, I dance in the glimmering light of the moon, connected to people I will likely never encounter again.

This is precisely the meaning of life: Experiencing the freedom to live solely in a moment, encased in the present with the mind, body, and soul in union. Dancing at the bottom of Ben Yehuda street, for the first time, I felt an unexplainable freedom.

I felt alive.


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