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Youth Writing Contestant: “What It Means To Be Free”

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, May 1. Today, we’re proud to publish this poem by Anna Dreher, a 16-year-old student at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. We’ll be publishing more exciting new voices soon.

Anna Dreher

Youth Writing Contestant: Anna Dreher is a 16-year-old student at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. Image by courtesy of Anna Dreher

To be free is
to have option
in every decision.
To dress,
and speak,
and pray,
and live,
how I choose.

To be free is
to think without boundaries.
To not have thoughts and opinions
forced on me from the day I am born,
ground into me by those in power,
ensuring that they will forever take the shape of a
perfect little box with a ribbon on top,
with no room to grow.

To be free is
to see my life as a canvas,
which I can paint with endless possibility.
To have opportunity,
regardless of my roots,
or how much money I have in the bank.

To be free is
to love whomever it is
that sets the bluebird in my soul free
and allows it to sing above the treetops. Whomever it is
that gives me strength
and courage
and complete joy.
Regardless of who they are,
Or what our love may look like.

To be free is
to pray in the language of my people
with no fear of hate.
To sit in shul and listen to
a chorus of voices,
echoing in the sanctuary.
Harmonies praising Hashem.

To be free is
to see people next door,
in the church and the mosque.
And to recognize them as my brothers and sisters,
For our differences are dwarfed
by the human experience that connects us.

To be free is
to own my body.
To live in it as I see fit.
To worship it as the temple it is.
To have complete autonomy,
and to know that I cannot be told
how to exist within myself.

To be free is
to breathe deeply,
to see the world with clear eyes,
and a full heart,
and no fear.
And to know that
my experience,
my identity,
my soul,
is solely mine and my maker’s.

Anna Dreher is a 16-year-old student at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.


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