Dany Maknouz from the Scuola Della Comunita Ebraica in Milan describes life under quarantine due to the Coronavirus. This article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle in the UK.
This was our weirdest Purim. No fancy dress. No get-togethers or celebratory meals. No dancing.
The synagogues closed on Monday, so those who want to pray are forced to do so without a minyan. A lot of us gave up on hearing the megillah. Most had to settle for listening to livestreams through social media.
This is a real curfew and the atmosphere reflects that. We stay at home, families united but separated at the same time. Our PCs and TVs are always on — we want to keep up to date with the news, to be connected to the outside world. Those who are able keep up with their work from home, with video calls and other collaborative tools. But people who run commercial businesses already know it is going to be a rough few months.
Our thoughts are with the elderly who have even stricter rules on not leaving their homes. The Jewish community’s social assistance is available to provide meals for those not able to go to the grocery store themselves. The nursing home had already stopped visits from relatives in order to halt the spread of the virus.
It is three weeks since every school was forced to close in Milan and they will stay shut until Pesach at least. We do not know how we will deal with our exams for the students who are about to finish middle and high school. One option may be to just have oral exams.
Our school has started running remote online classes for students during our normal school hours. We connect with our students through video-communication systems such as Zoom. Classes are shorter than usual in order to let the students take a break, so they are not in front of a monitor all the time. ORT always focuses on problem solving and innovative pedagogy — now we are putting it into practice in a different way.
Classes must be as interactive as possible in order to be successful. We spend more time taking questions and answers from the pupils. Teachers keep explanations brief and we give more room for students’ interventions.
We are happy, both the teachers and students, to see each other. This connection gives us some sort of much-needed social interaction.
I feel sorry for the children in kindergarten and primary school, and for their parents. There is not much the schools can do to help them, other than assign homework that their parents can help them with. The universities are also closed and students are losing precious months of their academic careers.
Our ORT family has surrounded us with well-wishes from across the world. There are schools closed around the network, so everyone understands the situation we face.
Their closeness and willingness to help us makes us more positive. Our morale is still high. Even though we are stuck inside our homes, the sun is shining and we are confident everything will pass.
We will overturn our apparent fate, just as tradition dictates for Purim. Soon we will be able to go out, celebrate, have fun and study together once again.
Dany Maknouz teaches at Milan’s Scuola Della Comunita Ebraica, part of ORT’s global education network reaching 300,000 people a year in 30 countries