By Nira Dayanim
Over the past few weeks, a combination of cold weather and the return to campus after time away has led to a spike in COVID-19 cases among students at this university. The Jewish response? Fight it together.
Last semester, Kedma, the Orthodox group on campus, created a WhatsApp group to keep community members informed about individual cases and pandemic-related news. In less than the past two weeks, there have been 33 self-reported positive cases posted in the group.
Although climbing case numbers in a short time span led to dozens of quarantined Jewish students, they still have the support of campus Jewish organizations like Chabad and Hillel.
“Should your student fall ill or find themselves needing to quarantine due to close contact, Maryland Hillel is here to offer support, comfort, and some goodies,” wrote Hillel’s Executive Director, Rabbi Ari Israel, in an email to parents of Jewish students.
Hillel has also been delivering food and care packages to quarantined and isolated students, while Chabad has been distributing chicken soup and Jewish holiday-themed activities. Student-initiated services like Moti’s grocery deliveries have also accommodated to students by offering door-to-door delivery for quarantined students, providing an alternative to the usual process of picking up orders from Hillel.
“I think already the community has done a really good job of reaching out to people and asking if they need anything. Our apartment has already gotten upwards of 15 people offering to bring us groceries, or snacks or whatever,” said junior electrical engineering major Ariel Israel, who is quarantining with his roommates off-campus after he was exposed to COVID-19.
Kedma has also started a “Kedma Kindness” Whatsapp group, aimed at creating opportunities for students to give back.
“If someone is quarantining and isn’t able to get something, they can text in the chat and someone can volunteer to help out,” said Eitan Galper, a junior mechanical engineering major and Kedma board treasurer.
Galper also expressed that the close and connected nature of the Jewish community at this university has helped students handle COVID-19 from a more logistical standpoint, specifically by assisting in contact tracing.
“We can react to [COVID-19] quickly because we know how the community operates,” he said.
Some students, such as freshman letters and sciences student Yakir Kanefsky, have seen the COVID-19 spike as an opportunity to do good beyond the community. After he was exposed to a friend who received a positive test result, Kanefsky, who is an out-of-state student, had no option but to move into the quarantine dorms. Kanefsky tried to make the most of his time in isolation, and ran ten miles in the common room of his quarantine dorm, raising over $1,200 for Free Wheelchair Mission, a non-profit that supplies wheelchairs to those in need.
“I kind of decided to overcome the situation. I wanted to see the whole thing as a challenge,” said Kanefsky.
Though the pandemic rages on, Jewish students at this university continue to show their resilience and dedication to each other and the community.
“There have been some really tough moments and times when people had to support each other but I think this semester and last semester definitely show how a community can come together,” said Galper.