On Freedom

In many ways, it seems to me like my whole life has been a long search for freedom. Throughout my childhood, my freedom came in many shapes and sizes; it looked like writing fictional tales about magic worlds at just 6 years old, spontaneously deciding to dye a green streak in my hair or walking around school grounds barefoot in the middle of winter.

These small, random actions I took were a way for me to escape the shackles of everyday life and do something simply because I felt like it.

The biggest step I took as a free, independent person, was probably coming here, to Toronto. I left everything I've ever known behind and marched into uncharted territory. This decision, more than any other so far, made me feel powerful. It served as proof for both me and the people around me that I was in charge. I was the author of my own story.

These days, with Pesach just around the corner, I've been thinking a lot about the areas in my life where I'd like to have more freedom. I've been thinking about my country, and its 70-year-long struggle between tradition and modernism. It feels like the whole unique character of the State of Israel is rooted in this question. How do we stay faithful to our Jewish origins, while allowing ourselves to progress together with the rest of the world?

As an Israeli woman, it feels crucial that I ask myself this question. While Israeli women are freer than ever before, and are granted opportunities our grandmothers never had the privilege to have, we are not entirely free yet.

We still have to fight for our place within a society that allows only one Jewish lifestyle, while disregarding progressive Judaism or secular lifestyles almost completely. 

We still have to work for our rights to pray freely, to dress freely, and to get married or divorced as respected equals. 

We still have to struggle to make our voices heard in a patriarchal world where almost every workplace is male-dominated. 

We still have to earn the freedom to determine the course of our lives as independent adults, adults who are able to wear any hat they want, not just the hats of the little girl, mother or wife.

I'm only 18 years old. I still have so much more to learn about what it means to be an Israeli woman, and all the different ways my womanhood can be expressed. The ongoing progress in women's rights makes me hopeful I'll be able to do so freely and fearlessly.

However, I know this progress would not be possible without the hard work of brave women who fought to create a safer reality for all of us, by speaking up against exclusion and standing up for their beliefs. 

This coming Pesach,  my wish for me and for my community, both here and back home, is that we finish the job they started; that we lean on the work that was done by our grandmothers and mothers and sisters, and keep up their efforts to push this new freedom even further.

Maayan Lange
UJA ShinShinit


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