Posted by: Jeff Rubin, Associate Vice President for Communications on 4/17/2007 3:06:00 PM
Just five months ago Hillel professionals took to their feet to give a standing ovation to Hillel at Virginia Tech Executive Director Sue Kurtz who had received an award for campus excellence. Today, we see why Sue received the award. In the last 24 hours, she has been tested in ways that few of us can understand as she and her campus have responded to the worst mass killing in U.S. history.
When the first murders occurred on campus, Sue and her daughter, a Virginia Tech student, were preparing to drive to campus. At 9 a.m. -- unaware of the earlier shootings -- Sue dropped her daughter off at the building next to what would become the major killing site. As the gunman went on his rampage, Sue and her daughter were locked down in separate places on campus. Sue spent the next three hours in a windowless room.
In the late afternoon, Sue and her daughter emerged from their shelters and immediately began to contact students, friends and faculty members. The Virginia Tech Hillel e-mail inbox and voicemail were jammed with messages from around the world. Concerned parents were calling. The media flooded campus and approached Sue and her daughter at every turn.
No campus could be prepared for a tragedy of this scale, and particularly not a campus in sleepy little Blacksburg. “This is not why I left New York,” Sue said.
At night, Hillel at Virginia Tech convened a meeting of Jewish students but the university had not released the names of any victims and so the mood was one of shocked disbelief rather than grief or mourning. A second meeting was planned for Tuesday night.
Late Monday night, Sue was preparing for her role at the campus-wide convocation that was scheduled for the next day. The idea of potentially addressing as many as 23,000 people at one time was daunting enough -- at that time it was not known that President Bush and his wife also would be participating, nor that the event would be broadcast live around the world.
She searched for the right approach for her message, the right Jewish text. Maybe something from Psalms, a book of great comfort to all faiths. In the end, she and a student read a passage in English and Hebrew from Kohelet, the book of Ecclesiastes. “Our campus really responds when we use the original Hebrew,” she said.
A story is told of one hero at Virginia Tech. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust survivor Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter when he attempted to enter his classroom.
Another heroic story is unfolding. After the convocation is over, the real process of grieving, healing and reconstruction will begin. During many years of hard work to construct a thriving Jewish community on campus, Sue Kurtz has overcome many challenges. We are confident that she is up to the difficult task ahead. She has all of our love, support and admiration.
RE: Heroism at Virginia Tech
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