On the day after a student murdered 32 individuals on campus, Virginia Tech Hillel Executive Director Sue Kurtz addressed 10,000 participants in a convocation that featured President George Bush, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine, university administrators and representatives of other faiths.
In a speech that was broadcast to millions around the world, Kurtz and graduate student Anat Elazari read from the Hebrew text of the Biblical book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). Kurtz added: "Let us draw strength from one another to move from a time of violence and sorrow to a time of healing and peace. Let us carry the memories of our friends and teachers with us always so that, in the words of Jewish tradition, Yehi zichronam tzadikim lebracha, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing."
The convocation was intended to bring the university community together following a day of violence that was unprecedented in U.S. history. As the shooter went on his rampage, Kurtz and her daughter Samantha were locked down in different buildings on campus. Meanwhile, Steinhardt JCSC Fellow Talya Mazor was barricaded in the campus multicultural center with 50 students, according to the Jerusalem Post. "I didn't know what she could do to help the distraught students... I got them food. Maybe that's my Jewish instinct," Mazor said.
While university officials worked to identify the victims and notify their families, Kurtz, Mazor and Hillel students scrambled to find out if their friends and colleagues were lost in the attack. An Israeli professor, Liviu Librescu, 76, gave his life while trying to stop the gunman from entering his classroom. The teacher, beloved by students and colleagues alike, was a Holocaust survivor who was killed as a hero on Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom Hashoah.
Hillel at Virginia Tech was in touch with students throughout the day of the shooting and convened a meeting of Jewish students on Monday night. Kurtz has also been working with parents and Hillel community supporters.
Virginia Tech Hillel will focus in the short term on enabling Jewish students to process these tragic events and to grieve. The Hillel is planning nightly communal meals to bring the Jewish community together. Donations to Virginia Tech Hillel can be made online or sent to: Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center, Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Building, 800 Eighth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001-3724, Attn: Development - Virginia Tech Hillel Individuals may post a message for Virginia Tech Hillel on the Hillel Web site.
The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization of Jewish federations, will provide Virginia Tech Hillel with an emergency grant of $10,000.
Jewish students comprise approximately 1,200 of the university’s 23,000 undergraduates and 200 of the school’s 2,000 graduate students.
In the last five years, the university has created a Jewish studies program which funds, in part, the Hillel on campus. Jewish campus enrollment has increased, Jewish activities have multiplied and the Hillel/Jewish Studies Program has hosted such nationally renowned speakers as Elie Wiesel and Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Kurtz was given a campus partnership award in 2006 for her success in creating a thriving Jewish community at the school.
Hillels and other groups from around the world have expressed their sympathy for Tech community members and solidarity with their grief. A delegation from the Edgar M. Bronfman Center at NYU traveled to Blacksburg to help Virginia Tech Hillel. Hillels held ceremonies of solidarity for Virginia Tech at the following schools: Gallaudet University; Clark University; Wellesley College; Babson College; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University at Albany; UNLV; Northeastern University; University of Oklahoma; Southern Methodist University; Ohio State University; College of William and Mary; Smith College; Ithaca College; and Bucknell University.
Rabbis in New York and Chicago have offered to fly to Virginia to assist in the counseling effort.
“The only possible response to a horror of this scale is to remember the victims of this tragedy with love, to use their lives as an example for our own, and to continue to pursue a better world in their memory,” said Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone.
Hillel issued the following statement in the wake of the tragedy:
The Hillel movement expresses its most profound sympathy to the students, faculty and families who have been touched by the tragedy that has befallen Virginia Tech.
Hillel also expresses admiration and respect for our colleagues at Virginia Tech, Executive Director Sue Kurtz and Steinhardt JCSC Fellow Talya Mazor, for their outstanding work in meeting the needs of Jewish and non-Jewish students on campus.
Text: Sue Kurtz Speech
Webcast of Convocation
Post a message for Virginia Tech Hillel
Blog: Heroism at Virginia Tech
Jerusalem Post: Israeli professor killed in US attack
Jerusalem Post: Barricaded in Hillel
JTA: Jews Respond to VTech Tragedy
JTA Blog: Good for the Jews?
JTA: UJC Helps Heals Va. Tech Wounds
New York Jewish Week: Blacksburg Chabad House Now On ‘Fast Track’
New York Jewish Week: A Hero’s Final Journey Washington Jewish Week: Feeding a sense of community
Washington Jewish Week: 'We are all suffering' Community memorial held for Va. Tech victims
The Forward: Massacre Triggers Korean Soul-Searching Washington Jewish Week: The Day After
Washington Jewish Week: A Jewish hero