What it Means to Choose Freedom - Delia Erb-Wagner

Blog image - What it Means to Choose Freedom - Delia Erb-Wagner

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 

In AP Language and Composition class here at Muss, we read Bari Weiss’s “What it Means to Choose Freedom,” delivered at the 92nd Street Y on the “State of World Jewry.” Weiss, an established and successful Jewish journalist, captivates her audience by explaining the struggles around Jewish freedom in the world today. She highlights the ability to turn to a “mob mentality” when it is difficult to be courageous and stand up for what you believe, out of fear. The speech questions America as a place free of antisemitism – or the world as a whole – as a place free of its hateful and discriminatory roots.


Weiss’ words struck me right in the heart; not only because I am an American Jew, but because I am an American Jew currently living in Israel.


The recent response to October seventh at prestigious and powerful universities across America proves Bari Weiss’ point that the nation is not “immune” from bigotry and hatred – as many of us may have thought. It proves that now, more than ever in my lifetime, it is my duty and responsibility to stick up for my people and combat the inequalities of the world. The Alexander Muss High School in Israel program is my way of contributing to this. I am here to explore the nation of Israel, create a meaningful connection to the people and land of my ancestors, and bring back strong insight to my community to help deal with antisemitism in America.  

In addition to connecting her speech to the idea of “mob mentality”, Weiss connected her speech to the Torah portion from that week: Ki Tisa. In this portion, while Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the commandments, the Israelities below grew restless and concerned. They turned away from G-d and their faith, and towards idolatry (in the form of a Golden Calf). Weiss links this to modern times, by explaining that current idolatry is found in the obsession over “prestige, power, social acceptance, popularity, elite opinion, and the Ivy League.”

It is crucial not to submit to the pressures of idolatry out of fear, as the Israelities and Aaron did when they turned to the Golden Calf and as many American Jews today are submitting to. We must remain courageous and strong in our faith and in our people. Through this program, I am demonstrating my “freedom” from the modern-day American idols because I am not submitting to fear of rejection from powerful universities. Upon my return from AMHSI, my transcript, sent on all college applications, will proudly read “Junior Year Semester in Israel Grade Report.” This may scare some “idol-worshipers,” who might think that this program will change my acceptance to some of the finest establishments across the nation. That my incredible opportunity to study abroad about topics I am interested in will change my fate of acceptance because it is in Israel, but those programs are not for me.

We must proudly stand up to the antisemitism in America and not give into fear of rejection from prestigious universities. I am in Israel to learn and study from our land, and won’t let fear change my experience. I believe now is a more important time than ever before, to experience Israel and all the opportunities it has to offer.  


Delia Erb-Wagner is a high school junior from Hillsborough, New Jersey.

If you care about standing up to antisemitism in the US and supporting the future of the next generation, consider donating to Delia's fundraising page for our March Fundraiser.