What it Means to Choose Freedom - Talia Zuckerman

Blog image - What it Means to Choose Freedom - Talia Zuckerman

Last month, Bari Weiss (currently of The Free Press and formerly of The New York Times) gave the address at the 92nd St. Y in NYC on “The State of World Jewry.” Her predecessors in giving this address were, among others, figures of importance in Jewish history such as Elie Wiesel, Amos Oz and Abba Eban. In AP Language we read her address, titled “What it Means to Choose Freedom,” as it echoes the earlier voices from the American Enlightenment and the Transcendental movement that we have read in class and is so relevant to us here and now, both in America and in Israel. Here is a reflection from one of our students on how this piece resonated with them personally.    


What it Means to Choose Freedom

 I stand in Israel today, choosing the right and exercising my freedom to express my identity as an American Jew, and as a Jew who loves Israel. As I read Bari Weiss’ address on “What it Means to Choose Freedom,” it clarified for me what I felt but could not put into words. We are indeed now in the midst of a significant change in how the world views Jews and in how we see ourselves. As Bari Weiss makes clear, “We are at a hinge moment in history. Our world is changing.”  I am keenly aware of the point she makes, “that our safety—as well as our freedom—are contracting right now in real time.”

It is hard to be brave and to show courage, and it is hard because so many people in the world have turned against us. As the rise in antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment flourishes in the most unexpected places, we stand shocked and unprepared for this sea change that has suddenly swept over us as it had for our ancestors' time and time again, throughout history. But we must be brave, and we must have courage to stand strong for freedom. 

As I prepared to leave my high school in the Chicago suburbs for this semester abroad here at Alexander Muss High School in Israel, excited and full of anticipation, the world changed on October 7th. Suddenly, and enveloped in heartbreak, we didn’t know if the program would move forward and, more than ever, I prayed that it would. Luckily it did, and I still had the freedom to attend AMHSI. Friends asked if I was crazy to go now to Israel, during this period of intense war and upheaval. Others asked me if I felt safe going and asked how my parents felt about it. And although it was a bit scary at first, my parents and I didn’t hesitate. We understood that now, more than ever, this was important.

I have throughout my life been lucky enough to attend Jewish schools, Jewish camps, Jewish programs, trips to Israel, and other Jewish or Pro-Israel events. But this, now, was different than anything prior to October 7th. As I experience the history and culture of Israel, volunteer and help whenever we have the opportunity, renew my love of my Jewish heritage, and experience the beauty and the difficulty of life here, I am thankful for so much. I am grateful for all those who came into the world before me to fight for this right, and for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers who now fight every day to defend Israel from all those who want to destroy it.

I know that I will need strength and courage when I return home or go off to college, assuming I will still have the freedom to choose that, to face those who hate Jews, or those who deny the atrocities perpetrated against us. I don’t know yet how I will react in the moment when faced with antisemitism and hatred, but I do know that after being here in Israel, experiencing life here in Hod HaSharon and all that AMHSI offers, I will be well equipped to stand stronger for what is right and stand strong for freedom.  


Talia Zuckerman is an 11th grader from Chicago, Illinois.