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Free To + Free From = Freedom By

Editor’s Note: The Forward is featuring essays, poems and short stories written for our Young Writers Contest. Today’s entry was written by Ellery Bergman Chudnow, a 16-year-old student at New York’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School. You can find more work from our young writers here

“To” is such a small, seemingly insignificant preposition, but it holds enormous meaning beyond its two letters. Placed after the word free, one wonders, what are we truly free ​to​ do? Living in New York City for all of my life, I now realize that I, like many others in my life, can easily take this concept for granted. As a small child, with my family, I was free ​to​ go to Central Park, ride on cardboard slabs down old metal slides and dine at restaurants tasting cuisines from lands near and far. As a teenager and young woman, I am free ​to​ take the train to my high school, take the bus to my dance classes, and walk across the footbridge to Randall’s Island for soccer practice. I am also free ​to​ participate in opportunities to make friends with people from diverse backgrounds and experience life outside the Big Apple, living in a magical summer camp “bubble” two months a year. In the bubble, also known as Crane Lake Camp, I am free ​to develop new friendships, try out new aspects of my ever-changing personality, and free ​to​ be me in a safe, supportive environment. I was free ​to​ do all of this because the bubble enabled me to enjoy myself and to be free ​from​ the pressures that come with modern technology and social media.

“From” is another preposition that is equally meaningful when placed after the word free. I am only free ​to​ exercise my freedoms as long as I remain free ​from​ certain injustices, biases, and disparities. As a citizen of the United States, I am free ​from​ the worst aspects of religious persecution that faced my ancestors countless times, but I am not immune to lesser versions of intolerance. As part of the female community and a member of my school’s Girls Lead Our World (G.L.O.W) club, I work to ensure that women are free ​from​ discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal pay. Women have made great strides in this battle, but the struggle is far from over. Right now, the thought that most of us might pray and hope for is that we be free from​ Covid-19. My friends and I strive to be free ​from​ the fear and dread that has crept into our lives, making it impossible for us to be free ​to​ attend school, spend time with friends, or even visit with family. To support the workers on the frontlines of the fight against this deadly virus, my friends and I all cheer every night for the people that protect our freedom ​from​ sickness, but we must also do the hard work of staying home and socially distancing from one another. Free from​ has impacted our free ​to​. I must constantly be vigilant in an effort to maintain these freedoms ​from​ persecution, discrimination and disease such that I never lose my freedom ​to embrace my religious and cultural identity and sense of self.

Freedom can only exist when our ability to be free ​from​ our burdens allows us to be free to​ connect with each other in meaningful ways that bring about a sense of well-being and joy. We must work to gain that freedom, by doing all that we can to ensure that we eliminate discrimination, religious persecution, gender inequality and disease, not just locally, but globally. Tikkun olam means repairing the world. Right now, people all over are working their hardest to repair the world while others do their part by staying at home and supporting friends, neighbors, families and communities. While social distancing may have limited our physical freedom, we can view this as a temporary time for reflection and empowerment that will keep us free ​from disease and give us the needed “free” time to reflect and prepare to bolster our right to be free from​ persecution, discrimination and disease, thus allowing us to embrace our ability to be free to​ be a healthier, more just and more empathic society. Then we will understand and embrace the true meaning of being “free.”

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