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Yesterday was fear, but today is serenity

Kaila Schusterman

Kaila Schusterman, age 13, is a student at Torah Day School of Atlanta. Image by Courtesy of Kaila Schusterman

Editor’s Note: The Forward’s Youth Writing 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 — you can find the entry guidelines here.The deadline is Friday, May 1.

Today, we’re proud to publish this poem by 13-year-old Kaila Schusterman from Torah Day School of Atlanta. We’ll be publishing more exciting new voices soon. You can find some of them here.

Long ago

In a place cold and harsh

Jewish boys huddled together underground

Drawing on each other’s strength


The ever burning light of Torah

They hid because they were persecuted

The KGB walked around

In their shiny boots

Sniffing out wrongdoers

The boys hid and learnt with their teachers

Torah and Talmud

Gemora and Gematria

If they were caught,

It was prison for them

Or death


Because they were practicing their religion

And speaking to G-d


Nearly 100 years later

I am my great-grandfather’s granddaughter

And I live in America

Where religion is embraced

I go to a Jewish school

With Jewish friends

And Jewish teachers

And Jewish studies

And Jewish culture

I live in a Jewish home

With Jewish parents

And Jewish siblings

And Jewish food

And Jewish tradition

And I do it all

Without the fear of persecution

Freedom means to not be tied down


It means to be able

To spread your wings

And fly

I am not held back

From doing what I love best

My family and I

Do not celebrate Pesach

In a dark cellar

Hushed and rushed

We celebrate in our beautifully decked dining room

And sing the songs

Our family has been singing for centuries

A century ago

They were sung

Quietly and sadly

But we sing them with joy!

And pride

Because freedom is being allowed

To express yourself

And serve G-d

Without the fear

Of persecution

I don’t live in Fear’s ugly shadow

Like my ancestors did

I bask in Serenity’s shade

And enjoy


Jewish life




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