Israel’s COVID-19 Crisis Can’t Stop Students
By Benjamin Singer | October 01, 2020
On Erev Rosh Hashanah Israel entered a three-week lockdown, severely limiting interaction and movement. Yeshivot and seminaries in Israel have had to adapt their programs to the ever-changing COVID reality—almost on a daily basis. How are they managing to ride the current storm, while keeping their students and community safe?
COVID-19 restrictions haven’t stopped Midreshet Lindenbaum, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network, from providing their students with a full schedule—including trips to the beach and Ein Gedi. After the initial two-week quarantine period, students united into one capsule/family unit, where they were allowed to interact unmasked.
Their spacious beit midrash has been divided into capsule sections, so that the other programs on campus can be held there safely without exposures between the capsules. Teachers are teaching in person, behind masks or screens in well-ventilated classrooms or in outdoor areas. High-risk faculty members are teaching on Zoom.
The Israeli programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum discovered COVID-19 cases the day the overseas group left quarantine, and they immediately sent their students home. Due to the strict separation between the capsules—including different paths around the building, special meal service, hand sanitizer everywhere—no students in the overseas program contracted the virus.
The question of keeping the surrounding neighborhoods safe is one that has been discussed in the Israeli news. Rabbanit Sally Mayer, rosh midrasha at Midreshet Lindenbaum’s overseas program, made it clear that they were taking every precaution: “Our students are allowed to leave unauthorized only for local walks/runs or essential trips to the local store, and need special permission for all other outings. They may not interact with anyone outside their capsule unless they are masked and distant from them, and they take this rule very seriously.
“We have been spending Shabbatot all together and look forward to meaningful chagim as well! We are in constant communication with the parents, who have expressed their appreciation for our careful consideration of the students’ physical as well as mental health.”
The lockdown from Rosh Hashanah until Simchat Torah has created challenges, especially as this is usually a fun time of year for gap-year students, but Midreshet Lindenbaum is prepared. It has an outdoor minyan for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as of this writing, and teachers will still be coming in to teach in person. They have ordered new equipment to make the lockdown time more fun—ping-pong tables, yoga mats and exercise equipment—and plan to start a vegetable garden and bring in workshops for the students as well.
“We are a family and will be spending the chagim together as a group, with students bringing their minhagim to share with everyone. We are building a large sukkah, which they will decorate and make their own,” Mayer concluded.
Lori Linzer, mother of Gila, a Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls graduate from Bergenfield, said: “I must say that I’m so impressed with how beautifully planned and orchestrated the girls’ arrival and quarantining has been so far. It’s clear that a lot of thought and care and love has gone into it, and we are very grateful to Lindenbaum for that. We are looking forward, B’ezrat Hashem, to a very special year.”