Fresh air for as long as it’s there: How the coronavirus is affecting a Jewish mother in Budapest


(JTA) — As a high school principal and mother of three, Zsuzsa Szilank is no stranger to hard work – especially since the birth of her youngest child last year.

But even her endurance is being tested by the coronavirus.

In addition to taking care of a baby while overseeing her Maimonides Jewish school’s transition to remote learning, Szilank is now playing coach for her middle child, a 16-year-old professional water polo player who is trying to stay sharp even as all public pools are closed.

“We go running together,” Szilank, 44, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Monday. “Training is good for both of us, but the real motivation is that I think that soon it won’t be possible anymore: We’re heading toward a lockdown situation like in Italy, so we’re breathing fresh air while it’s still there.”

Szilank said her duties mean that she’s busy for 14 consecutive hours each day. Maimonides, which was founded three years ago by the EMIH Hungarian-Jewish Association, has a faculty of 22 teachers with disparate requirements for a remote learning platform.

“The math teacher has different needs than the history teacher, who has different needs than the art teacher and so on, so we ended up with four to five different applications and setups,” she said.

Students reading at the Maimonides Jewish highschool in Budapest, Hungary on Oct. 7, 2019. (Courtesy of EMIH)

Students reading at the Maimonides Jewish high school in Budapest, Oct. 7, 2019. (Courtesy of EMIH)

Hungary, which has about 100,000 Jews, mostly living in Budapest, had 73 confirmed cases of coronavirus and one death as of Friday. Its government has put in place some of Europe’s strictest measures, including a ban on entry for foreign nationals and on any public or private gatherings.

Supermarkets are open at set times. There are shortages of many products, including toilet paper and pasta.

On Sunday, Szilank posted on Facebook and her neighborhood app an offer to help elderly people obtain groceries and provisions.

She is spending more time with her children at their home in the Hungarian capital’s 11th District, in its pricey and quiet western half, as they see their lives change.

“This disease is horrible, but it is helping us rediscover the value of things — a value that my parents’ generation knew but that we, who grew up with abundance, have forgotten,” she said. “I’m talking about the value of certain foods, like bananas, which I suspect will disappear from our tables in the near future. But also the value of each other’s company and our health.”

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