RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) – Brazil’s largest Jewish community is closing schools in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, despite the very low number of infections in the country so far.
Sao Paulo is home to half of Brazil’s 120,000 Jews. Its Beit Yaacov school, Brazil’s only bilingual Jewish institution where families pay an average monthly fee of $2,000 per student, will provide video classes beginning on Monday.
Alef Peretz also will have its students learn from home starting next week. Both institutions say there are no coronavirus cases among students or staff.
“This measure aims at preventing an epidemic in our community,” read the message released by Alef Peretz.
The schools join a rising tide of institutions closing down around the world to slow the deadly disease’s spread.
Home to Latin America’s first confirmed coronavirus patient, Brazil has registered 100 cases in a population of over 210 million. The cases include President Jair Bolsonaro’s Jewish press secretary, who met last week with President Donald Trump.
Alef Peretz is located inside Club Hebraica, a 54,000-square-foot complex featuring several gymnasiums, swimming pools, tennis courts, a spa, theaters, movies, libraries, restaurants, ballrooms, bank agencies and a synagogue.
“There is no reason for panic,” Hebraica president Daniel Bialski told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Our activities have not been stopped. We do not register any cases of coronavirus in our associates or regulars. We have more than 18,000 members and we do not register any cases of coronavirus in our attendees.”
In Rio de Janeiro, Jewish day schools announced that they are preparing for a state decision soon to close all public and private schools. One school, Eliezer Max, has created a committee of parents, including doctors, to advise the school’s response to both coronavirus and measles epidemics in the city.
Meanwhile, the local Lubavitch synagogue released an official memo signed by its chief envoy, Rabbi Yehoshua Goldman, stating that “panic and desperation are not Jewish” and outlining steps that the community can take to stay safe.
The memo includes new rules — starting with “No kissing, no hugging, no holding hands with one another” — that reflect a marked change in Latin culture where physical contact is part of standard social etiquette.