From his home in Italy’s wealthiest city, Rabbi Moshe Lazar can see deserted streets and squares that were bustling with life only two weeks ago.
“Public life is standing still,” he said on Monday. “No one goes out unless they absolutely need to.”
Lazar, 85, moved from New York to Milan 62 years ago with his wife Judy as emissaries for the Chabad Hasidic movement. About a quarter of Italy’s entire Jewish population lives in the northern city.
The Lazars spend some time each day devising solutions for Jews in Milan with urgent needs. When they aren’t coordinating, they read, learn and talk to each other and on the phone with relatives.
It’s a necessity to stay distracted in Italy, which now has the highest toll from the virus in the world — more than China, the country of 1.4 billion people where the pandemic started. On Wednesday alone, the virus killed 475 people in Italy.
Last week, the country placed all its citizens on lockdown indefinitely. Lombardy, the northern region where Milan is the capital, is the epicenter of the disease, which has overwhelmed local health services and morgues.
On Monday, the virus claimed the life of a former leader of the Jewish Community of Milan, Micky Sciama. He was 79.
Many Italians have stopped visiting elderly family members for fear of infecting them. Milo Hasbani, the president of Milan’s Jewish community, encouraged such behavior in a message following Sciama’s death.
“We owe it to our community and beyond to do everything to limit the spread of the virus,” he wrote.
*The article was published in JTA on March 20, 2020.