A Reminder of Life Without Freedom

Noah Graff


You don’t know what freedom is unless you don’t have it.

Life in Havana, Cuba

Tonight Passover begins! It’s the Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. I love the holiday for its distinct rituals, reflection about the story of the Jewish people and the meanings of the words “slavery” and “freedom.”

What does it mean to be a slave?

Are we slaves to our jobs, to our phones, to addictions, to depression? Or is that just Passover seder table froth?

What does slavery in 2016 look like? A few images come to mind such as human trafficking of prostitutes and women abducted by Boko Haram. But perhaps it is better to ask what a lack of freedom looks like in 2016.

I have a friend in Cuba who I met when I was there on vacation. We have been emailing every few weeks for over two years. We compare notes about what is happening in each other’s country according to our respective media. She has told me about her employment journey over the course of that period. She was working at a bank when I met her, then she was a waitress, and now she works in a flea market.

Don’t let the special guests at baseball games and the new cruise stops fool you. Cuban people feel desperate, probably more desperate than they have felt in a long time.

Salaries in Cuba still average $20 per month. People still do not have the freedom to say what they want nor travel where they want. They have very little freedom to start businesses. Police lurk on every other street corner, reminding people that their dictatorship government still makes the rules. Because of modern communication technology Cuban people in 2016 know about the freedoms enjoyed in other countries, which makes them extra pissed off about their situation.

When my friend tells me about her problems I try to console her. I say that it sounds horrible and that I can’t even fathom how hard it must be to live in her shoes. I tell her that she is a survivor and that when the communist government finally falls she will be able to do great things because making it through the misery will have made her a strong person.

I suggest to her that she appreciate the good things that she has—beautiful weather, good friends, relatively good health and the fact that bombs aren’t going off around her. I think she does appreciate those things, but they are not enough for her to feel satisfied. She wants what everybody in trouble longs for—hope. She wants to feel that a life of freedom will be possible for her one day, because when there is freedom there is hope.

Question: Are you hopeful about the future?

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7 thoughts on “A Reminder of Life Without Freedom

  1. Kevin

    Nice article Noah. Probably your best yet.

    Lately, I am not all that hopeful of improvements in manufacturing in the U.S.
    Private Equity Firms taking over previously held family businesses seem to be the new form of dictatorship squeezing wealth out of the middle class to support the gains of a few.
    I’m not quite sure that “freedom” (and as you say “hope”) in the U.S. is as it used to be. It appears to me that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

    Although I am not Jewish, I wish you a happy Passover!

  2. ed kays

    Opening relations with Cuba will only speed up the demise of the dictatorship they live under. As they realize what the rest of the world has, new generations will demand more and the social upheaval will eventually bring the current system to an end. Tell your friend to stay strong, the better times are on the way.


  3. Don Green


    Poignant essay. Passover is indeed about freedom in all it’s manifestations. We are fortunate to live in the US. And still there have always been factions that think we’re going to hell in a hand basket. But that shows off two of freedom’s perks. One is the right to think and believe what you want, and the other is the freedom to do something about it.

    Gut Yontiff

  4. Jerry Johnson

    Focus man. Another 7 months of Obama, and you WILL BE walking in her shoes !!
    It’s Passover… Open your eyes Bro. Soros is funding the world’s seder thru your blinders.
    You’re smart……. you should get it. Don’t be a “sleppy kepala” (apologies for the spelling)

    1. Noah Graff

      Hey Jerry. What’s a “sleppy kepala?” Did you mean to use a Yiddish phrase?

      7 more months of Obama–yeah. You sure you’re going to like the taste of the next course better?

  5. David

    Well put, Noah.
    I think we are in for a wild ride over the next four to eight years no matter which party wins in November. The gridlock in congress and the polarization is only likely to get worse during the next administration.


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