The school year opened at Virginia Tech on a somber note: On the same day that Virginia Tech dedicated a memorial to the 32 people killed by a student gunman in April, several students living off campus were hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning.
Four months after the shooting incident, Virginia Tech is still in the process of healing. The campus Hillel has plans to help students readjust to normal campus life and to expand offerings to the Jewish campus community.
Hillel has been a fixture at Tech for decades, but it was not until the arrival of Hillel Executive Director Sue Kurtz five years ago that the momentum truly picked up. Under her direction the school has hosted Elie Wiesel, Dr. Ruth Westheimer and the singer Matisyahu, among other important programs. She was recognized for her work in December 2006 when she was given an international Hillel award for campus partnership.
As the Jewish population on campus has grown, so has the professional staff. Next year, an Israel fellow will join a Steinhardt JCSC Fellow and Kurtz in serving the Jewish student population. Plans are being finalized to bring a visiting rabbi to the community beginning this Shabbat and throughout the year to provide spiritual guidance and to continue post-trauma counseling that was begun in April with the support of the United Jewish Communities (UJC). Efforts to bring the rabbi to Blacksburg are being led by the New York Board of Rabbis, Hillel, the UJC and the National Association of Jewish Chaplains.
Tech will also become a part of Hillel’s Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative, a program that hires students to engage their peers in Jewish experiences on campus. A grant from the Berrie Foundation will enable Hillel to bring a scholar-in-residence to campus each April to honor the memory of Liviu Librescu, the Jewish engineering professor who lost his life while preventing the gunman from entering his classroom.
Hillel at Virginia Tech now finds itself in the position of many growing Hillels: ready to take the leap to home ownership. Kurtz has secured several major capital contributions for a building but the campus Hillel is still far from its development goal.
Hillel president Wayne Firestone recently visited the Tech campus. “The Hokie spirit is simply amazing,” he said. “These young people are committed to their school and to a bright future. I am confident that Hillel will play an important role in strengthening life on campus not only for Jewish students but for the entire student population.”