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What freedom means to me in the time of COVID-19

Celebrating Passover during the pandemic, I have reflected on the freedoms I have lost and those that still remain. Because of coronavirus, I have lost the freedom to go to school, to visit and hug my beloved friends and extended family, to go to my dance, violin and art classes and run on my track team. At the same time, because of Passover, I have also lost the freedom to enjoy bread and my favorite baked goods. Nevertheless, I still feel fortunate and blessed because I enjoy so many other important freedoms in my daily life. I enjoy the freedom to be free from hunger and thirst, to be secure and safe in my home, to dress in my own unique way, to express myself, to connect with my friends online and to learn from my teachers on Zoom. Even confined at home in quarantine during Passover, I realize I have more freedom today than many other children had even before the pandemic of COVID-19.

Maya Elianna Fritz

Contestant: Maya Elianna Fritz is a 12-year-old student at the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School in Washington, D.C. Image by Courtesy of Maya Elianna Fritz

These days, after I wake up, I look through my dresser to create an outfit that fits my mood. The freedom to choose what I wear for the rest of the day is a form of self-expression. Every morning, I feel a sense of joy to make a new OOTD (“Outfit of The Day”) in a unique way, using a rainbow of colors. My mother taught me how to sew and I use our array of fabrics to sew new clothing. However, I realize that everyone does not share this freedom to express themselves through fashion. They might wake up every day with only one set of ragged clothes and not enough money to afford anything else to wear. Sometimes this freedom is not lost through poverty, but by cultural restrictions. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, women are required to be completely covered in public, and wear only black. Women might be arrested or even tortured because they aren’t wearing “appropriate” clothing or even because they have shown a strand of hair. These women could be assaulted or shamed because of the abusive veiling laws. Their freedom to choose what they wear is brutally taken away. I am now aware that this freedom I take for granted is not shared by everyone.

Another freedom I enjoy is the freedom to be free from hunger and thirst, to have a healthy diet and to choose what I eat. I even have the freedom to indulge my sweet tooth with a cookie or slice of cake, kosher for Passover. Many children in the world are malnourished and hungry, which weakens them and makes them vulnerable to disease. Even in the USA, millions of children experience food insecurity and hunger. Sometimes the only source of daily nourishment for these children are meals provided at school. In contrast, I have never gone a day without food, except by choice when I fast on Yom Kippur.

I am free from fear because I live in a safe neighborhood and am secure at home with my loving family who care for me. If I am feeling blue or in pain, I am given the freedom and space to cry and know I will be comforted. I have the freedom to express my feelings in my personal cupcake diary without fear of anyone else reading it. My room is a lilac and periwinkle oasis filled with my treasures and keepsakes. My books and art console me and my Playmobil worlds line the perimeter reminding me of happy times of imagination. I have beautiful pillows I sewed and a pink bean bag and a soft bed that envelops me in its flowery folds. Most of all I have a trusted family and have someone to give me a warm hug if I am feeling sad. I can share my thoughts and opinions to my family, knowing my ideas will be respected and acknowledged. In stark contrast, many children don’t have a safe and secure home or a loving family and must keep their feelings, ideas and tears hidden and bottled up. Globally, millions of children are homeless and sadly, some are physically, sexually, emotionally, or violently abused. This impacts a child’s health and can scar or ruin their life. They might be frightened to give voice to their hardships and fears. Though I am quarantined at home I can still go outside in nature and enjoy being with my caring family. In Anne Frank’s diary, I learned of how she was deprived of many forms of freedom when she was hiding from the Nazis. She wrote: “I’m longing – really longing – for everything: conversation with friends, freedom …”. Not everyone is free to express their emotions or may be too scared to share their struggles.

I learn every day from my knowledgeable family and from my wonderful teachers online. I have the freedom to broaden my knowledge and learn to my heart’s content! I feel deeply fortunate since many other children are deprived of opportunities for learning and education. In the world, over 100 million girls are forbidden to attend school. For instance, 44% of the girls in Pakistan do not attend school because it is not culturally accepted. As a young girl, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and went to school. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman but miraculously survived. Her courage was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize. However, sadly, the situation has not changed much in Pakistan. Millions of young girls are still deprived of experiencing the freedom of learning and their opportunities are drastically diminished.

I am free in these ways and many more. Though there are restrictions on my freedom from coronavirus, I know I am free in the most important ways. But I also know that my freedom will never be truly complete until everyone can share these freedoms with me.

Maya Elianna Fritz is a 12-year-old student at the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School in Washington, D.C.

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