Students in Israel and Europe are forced to re-think spring break and Passover plans.
Jewish students studying abroad must make adjustments to their Passover plans — and their semesters — as COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, reaches global pandemic status.
Maddie Katz, a Farmington Hills resident, has been on a gap year program in Israel since September. She said she was getting ready for a break from the routine of the program and hoped to go back home to Michigan for Passover.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced Monday that, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, anyone entering the country would have to be in quarantine for fourteen days. If Katz did decide to go home for the week of Passover, she’d be quarantined for two weeks upon returning to Israel.
“I don’t even know if I’m allowed to go back to the States now,” Katz said. “But let’s say I found a flight home and I came back, I’d be put on quarantine for two weeks, so that would be losing three weeks of the program.”
Many students studying abroad in Europe, on the other hand, are being told they must return home to the United States.
Sammi Elkus, a junior at Michigan State University, found out she was sent home from her study-abroad program in Budapest at 3 AM on Thursday, after President Donald Trump issued a travel ban from most European countries to the United States, effective Friday. It wasn’t clarified until later that the policy would not apply to U.S. citizens.
“We were told we had 48 hours to get back to the states,” Elkus, who’s from Huntington Woods, wrote in a message to the Jewish News. “By morning, I got a message that I had to move out of my dorm as soon as possible. Everything was so stressful and confusing and communication between my home university and my university in Budapest was extremely unclear.”
Similarly Margo Dickstein, also of Farmington Hills, has been spending the second half of her junior year at the University of Michigan studying abroad in Paris, France.
Dickstein found out late Wednesday night that the university, which has moved all instruction online until the end of the semester, would be sending students currently studying abroad home.
“It’s been insane, and it’s gone from zero to 1,000 in a day,” Dickstein said.
Despite all the confusion, Dickstein said she wasn’t sure what would have happened if she stayed in France and wound up getting sick.
“I don’t really speak a lot of French, so if something were to happen and I had to go to the hospital, I’d be pretty helpless.”
Before the spread of COVID-19 reached the level of pandemic, Dickstein had been planning to go to Israel for Passover.
“Living in Paris as a Jewish person can get a bit exhausting,” “It’s really hard to find Jewish activities going on if you’re not really involved with the community, because everything is a bit secretive and really secure… I wanted to go to Israel and kind of refresh.”
Now, Dickstein said, she plans to spend the holiday with her family in Michigan. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to get back the money she’d spent on her trip to Israel.
Elkus will also celebrate Passover with her family now — a silver lining for her in a time of great uncertainty.
“With all the craziness going on right now, I’m feeling more comfort in the fact that I will now be home for Passover with my family,” she told the JN.
Both Elkus and Dickstein said they were disappointed to see their semesters cut short, especially with such short and confusing notice.
“It’s going to be a very hard adjustment coming back home two and a half months early to live at home with no school to attend,” Elkus told the JN.
To make matters more confusing, Dickstein said she isn’t sure if she’s supposed to self-quarantine after returning from France, which has been declared a Level 3 country by the Centers for Disease Control, meaning any non-essential travel should be avoided.
“No one has sent me any emails saying to self-quarantine, and it confuses me because now [France] is at CDC Level 3, so I don’t know if that in itself means I should self-quarantine,” Dickstein said. “If they tell me to, I will, I’ll happily do it. But I just need someone to tell me if I should.”