Can we talk about something good for a change?
As headlines bombard us with stories of violence and curfews set against the backdrop of an epidemic, it’s easy to lose hope. Which is why it’s been so refreshing to step away from the unrelenting daily news cycle and read the work of young writers whose work brims forth with energy, honesty, and yes, even optimism.
Our Young Writers Contest inspired hundreds of middle-school and high-school students to share what freedom means to them in this time of remote-learning and social isolation. Our young authors come, of course from the United States, but also from Canada,Europe and Africa. They sent essays, poems,short stories.
The talent and intelligence on display has been both exhilarating and daunting. Our judges — former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro; Dahlia Lithwick, who writes about the Supreme Court for Slate; The Jewish Education Project’s Nicole Fine and Hillary Gardenswartz; Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of the Forward; and Nora L. Sissenich, a first-year high school student who originally conceived of the contest and who just happens to be my daughter — had a tough time selecting the winners, whose pieces represent only a fraction of the terrific work we received.
You can read all the winning entries here. Congratulations to the winners, who each receive $180 in addition to the glory, and the two runners-up in each category.
Julie Levey, an 18-year-old student at New York’s Spence School, finds the meaning of freedom while conducting a Zoom seder. Levey is the 1st place winner in our High School I (11th-12th grade) division.
Marika Campbell-Blue, a 15-year-old student from the Montgomery Blair School in Silver Spring, Md., ponders the burdens of being economically challenged in an affluent Jewish culture. Campbell-Blue is the 1st place winner in our High School II (9th-10th grade) division.
In this harrowing story, Rachel Ezrielev, a 13-year-old student from Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring, Md., confronts the dangers of publicly expressing love. Ezrielev is the 1st place winner in our middle school division.
Laine Schlezinger, an 11th grader at Burlingame High School in Burlingame, Ca., confronts prejudice in her purportedly liberal West Coast bubble. Schlezinger is the 2nd place winner in our High School I (11th-12th grade) division.
In this charming story by Nora Wyrtzen, a 15-year-old student at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Conn., a group of friends finds freedom in the world of imagination. Wyrtzen is the 2nd place winner in our High School II (9th-10th grade) division.
In Victoria Nealey’s poignant poem, the narrator learns a hard lesson about freedom and acceptance, Nealey, a 13-year-old student at the Brandeis School in San Francisco, is the 2nd place winner in our middle school division.
A brush with mortality leads Lily Forman, a 17-year-old student at Columbia High School in South Orange, N.J., to pursue activism. Forman is the 3rd place winner in our High School I (11th-12th grade) division.
Josh Elkin, a 16-year-old student at the High School of Health Sciences in Wales, Wi., finds that immigration does not always lead to freedom. Elkin is the 3rd place winner in our High School II (9th-10th grade) division.
Sasha Leitner, a 7th grader at New York’s Institute for Collaborative Education, recalls what freedom used to feel like. Leitner is the 3rd place winner in our middle school division.
Receiving honorable mentions in our contest are Asher Wexler, a 17-year-old student at the Research Triangle High School in Durham, N.C.; Covenant Olorunyomi, a 17-year-old student from Baptist High School in Lokoja, Nigeria; Ariella Reynolds, a 15-year-old student at Avon High School in Avon, CT; Julia Schroers, 14-year-old student from Guilford, Conn.; Maayan Sarna, a second-year student at SAR in the Bronx; Ella Sadka, a 12-year-old student from the Ann and Nate Levine Academy in Dallas; Emily Hyett, a ten-year-old student from North Hampton, N.H.; Lara Fraenkel, an 11-year-old student at École Buissonière in Montreal; and Noa and Netta Dobzinski, 13-year-old students from the Ellis School in Pittsburgh.
Adam Langer is the Forward’s senior editor for culture and features. Born and raised in Chicago, he is the author of the novels “Crossing California,” “The Washington Story,” “Ellington Boulevard,” “The Thieves of Manhattan” and “The Salinger Contract” as well as the memoir “My Father’s Bonus March.” His forthcoming novel “Cyclorama” will be published in 2022.