As a child born and raised in Iran during the 1960s and `70s, I was taught to keep my head down and my mouth shut. I was free to be Jewish as long as I was discreet and silent. My father encouraged me to follow these dictates, which had supported the existence of Iran’s Jewish community for thousands of years. Every Iranian minority knew that the freedom to live and even flourish depended on remaining silent.

My mother told me that I could set my goals as high as I chose and that I could accomplish anything, but I knew that my freedom was limited: My sense of responsibility informed me that if II knew that my freedom was limited declared my freedom to act, I would face grave consequences. In essence, to be a Jew and a thinker in Iran of the late 1970s meant having to live as a slave in relative liberty, within the dictates of her masters. And this I could never accept.

In 1978, at the age of 13, I slipped out of my father’s house to join university students demonstrating against the brutalities of the Shah. I thought that by adding my voice to the cry of “Long Live Freedom!” I would help freedom come to my country. I was young, idealistic and naïve. As my ambitions were primarily academic, I truly believed that my desire to live a life without restraint could never harm me or bring harm to others.

When the Ayatollah Khomeini replaced the Shah, I saw that my desire for freedom had been co-opted by the unscrupulous. One tyrant was replaced with another. Nonetheless, I continued to follow the dictates of my heart and spoke out whenever I saw people bullied or in danger.

The beginning of my demise, which eventually led to my fleeing the country, began when I intervened in a schoolyard quarrel. I attended a nondenominational private girls’ school where Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is were united. Yet, as the turmoil began to settle in my hometown of Shiraz, the voices of the radical Islamism began to emerge. Social unrest became the norm, and the minority began to suffer. Homes, especially those in the Baha’i community, were set ablaze.

My Baha’i classmate was distraught; to distract her, I suggested a volleyball game during recess. As we were playing, a classmate who was a Hezbollah supporter (and supporter of Ayatollah Khomeini) taunted her, by shouting: “Too bad they did not burn your house! They should have burned your house, too.”

I jumped into the fray. I faced the ringleader, drawing upon my knowledge of Islam I proclaimed: “You call yourself a Muslim! What does the name of your prophet Muhammad mean?” I shouted back: “It means peace and tolerance! Where is peace and tolerance in burning innocents’ homes? You are like a parrot, repeating words without understanding the meaning.” Humiliated, she ran to the principal, seeking revenge.

I was suspended from school for a “lack of respect towards the majority,” while the bully was not reprimanded. I accepted the punishment in deed, if not in spirit. I knew I had defended my friend against injustice. My mother affirmed my actions, yet pleaded that I should never put myself in harm’s way again. She was prescient; I did not know that years later, the Muslim classmate that I confronted would use her Hezbollah connections to put my name on a government blacklist that sought to have people disappear. To ensure my survival, I was required to leave school and go into hiding for more than a year, prior to eventually being forced to flee Iran.

Had I known that my outburst would one day impel my flight into the most dangerous desert in the world—the Kavir e lut—and my difficult journey to Pakistan, would I still have been so free with my words? I believe so.

When I look back at my life in Shiraz, I remember the Passover Seders of my youth, where we gathered at my grandfather’s house, heard the men recite words from the Haggadah, ate the fresh seasonal fruit and savored the matzah prepared by my father and grandfather at the kosher bakery organized by the Jewish community. We Iranian Jews were proud to be members of a community that had been part of Iranian life and Persian culture for nearly 3,000 years.

In my memoir, Fleeing the Hijab: A Jewish Woman’s Escape from Iran, I write about the life-threatening circumstances that compelled me to flee my country. I was a simple girl from a middle-class family. The last time I celebrated Passover in the warm, richI remain nostalgic tradition of my large Iranian family, I was 13—young enough to believe that the future held possibilities, yet old enough to be aware that we lived in dangerous times.

When I think about my life as a child in my father’s house, I remain nostalgic. Yet there is nothing that can match the pride I feel to know that now in Canada, I can thrive as a woman, a Jew and a professional. I am free to discuss and share my beliefs in an atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance. The laws declare that I am free. My religion tells me I am free. And I will go to the ends of the earth to protect this fragile right.