Posted by: Scott Brown, Hillel Vice President for Human Resources on 4/24/2007 3:35:00 PM
A week ago, Virginia Tech was coming to terms with the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Today, most of the media trucks have left, classes have resumed, and students are readjusting to “normal” life. Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning Jewish Education Associate Reuben Posner and I traveled to Virginia Tech this week to lend our Hillel colleagues additional support as they work with Jewish students.
Hillel Executive Director Sue Kurtz and Steinhardt JCSC Fellow Talya Mazor are amazing and inspiring. As we walked across campus, they were greeting, hugging, caring, inviting and planning every minute of their day, which for Sue began with a campuswide program at 7 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. with a call to a local caterer to order lunch for 75 students tomorrow! Like so many of our Hillel colleagues, these are two wonderful, dedicated professionals who never stop giving of themselves.
At this late point in the semester, students are both processing their response to this tragedy and preparing to leave campus for the year. The university is allowing students to go home early if they are satisfied with their grades for the semester. Hillel programming takes on added value as young people feel a strong need to join together, to understand their feelings, and to celebrate life. Hillel continues to offer nightly dinners to enable the young people to find comfort with one anohter and to meet privately with a counselor if they wish.
One of the students, Mitch Pinsker, shared these thoughts with Hillel: “These comfort and food dinners have brought the Jewish community together in a time when I really needed it. I have stayed in Blacksburg since the tragedy and interacting with my fellow Jews has been the best therapy I could ever ask for. Sharing thoughts, giving and receiving countless hugs, crying in each others’ arms has really helped me grieve and heal. I strongly feel these dinners helped fueled the love and sense of community I feel right now.”
Rabbi Zahara Davidowitz-Farkas has been indispensable in helping the young people deal with their feelings. The rabbi was sent by the United Jewish Communities (UJC) a few days ago to assist Hillel staff and to provide student counseling. She is spending her time meeting with individual students, participating in Hillel's regular dinner programs and attending campus chaplain meetings to help Sue and Talya.
Hillel is putting together a balanced program for the coming week that will include creating space for meaningful conversations, sponsoring dinners for Jewish, non-Jewish and university personnel at the local JCC, programming for Shabbat and a bonfire at the home of Sue Kurtz. Sue and Talya will also be creating other fun program breaks for students.
As the semester comes to a close, students are preparing to leave this close-knit community. Just as Tulane students dispersed during Katrina, Hokies will return to their home communities in the days ahead. They will turn to their parents, friends and religious leaders for emotional support. Virginia Tech Hillel is looking into ways to bring students together after the semester ends and to provide support for them and their parents. Talya and Sue feel that it may be very helpful for students and parents to have an opportunity to be with one another and share Hokie pride.
Virginia Tech Hillel has received tremendous support from around the world. In addition to a $10,000 grant from the United Jewish Communities, more than $3,000 has been raised in individual donations. Words of support are pouring in from around the globe, such as the following messages posted on Hillel’s Web site:
“As a very old Wahoo (U.Va 1941) I convey my profound sympathy to the families of loved ones who were lost and wounded in the horrible tragedy of April 16th. I convey my compliments to Director Sue Kurtz for her excellent presentation at the Convocation, delivered with great feeling. Hokies, be strong.”
“I am writing from Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina). I think that something like that should not happen to anyone trying to learn…”
“We in the UK are saddened by the tragedy and our thoughts are with you.”
“MY sorrow is YOUR sorrow. Children are children, regardless whose they are. We can NEVER afford to lose them no matter how they're how they are lost. Unfortunately, we Jews have another hero...the good professor. May his family be consoled among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem! In our sorrow, let us not forget the parents of that tragically sick killer, for they, too have lost a child.....doubly so!”
It is clear to me that Virginia Tech is a very unique and special place. It will not let itself be defined by this horrible event. There are too many good, caring people – and too much Hokie spirit – to let that happen.
RE: Back to "Normal" at Virginia Tech
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