April 19, 2007
Briefs: Israeli professor, a Shoah survivor, among dead at Virginia Tech; Ariel Sharon -- signs of sentience
Among the things said to have inspired Liviu Librescu to leave his home in Israel and resettle in southwest Virginia was the area's pastoral surroundings.
A professor of engineering at Tel Aviv University, Librescu came to Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1985 for a one-year sabbatical, but stayed more than two decades.
"It was the right place for him," Librescu's son Arie told JTA from his home in Israel. "It was the right school in terms of what he was working on. He liked the quiet and the peace of that area."
That peace was broken April 16 when a gunman, a 23-year-old senior from South Korea, stormed Norris Hall, where Librescu was teaching. Librescu was killed, along with 32 others, in the worst shooting rampage in American history.
Born in Romania, Librescu survived the Holocaust and the brutal regime of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, arriving in Israel in 1978. He died on the day that his adopted country, and Jews worldwide, marked Yom Hashoah, the international day of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust.
Students in Librescu's class say he barricaded the classroom door as the gunman advanced, providing time for students to escape through the windows. Asael Arad, an Israeli freshman at the Blacksburg campus, said he had heard from Librescu's wife that the professor died trying to prevent the gunman from entering his classroom.
"He blocked the door with his body so the killer wouldn't be able to get into the class," Arad said. "He got shot through the door."
A professor in the Engineering Science and Mechanics Department, Librescu was educated at the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest and the Institute of Fluid Mechanics, where he received his doctorate in 1969. He specialized in research of high-strength, lightweight materials used in airplanes and boats.
A source at the Israeli Embassy in Washington confirmed that Librescu had been prevented from emigrating by Romania's Communist government. An appeal from Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Romania's president paved the way for Librescu and his wife, Marlena, to move to Israel.
As of Tuesday, Librescu was believed to be the only Jew killed in the massacre. One Jewish student broke his ankle leaping from a second-story window and was recovering in the hospital Monday evening.
Virginia Tech has a relatively small Jewish population -- 1,400 out of a total student body of 29,000, according to Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life -- though it's said to be growing.
Campus Hillel director Sue Kurtz held a meeting with Jewish students Monday night and was planning a second for Tuesday. Kurtz was scheduled to deliver a reading at a university-wide convocation Tuesday afternoon.
"The only possible response to a horror of this scale," Hillel President Wayne Firestone said, "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."
Librescu is survived by his wife, sons Joe and Aryeh and one grandchild. The family is planning a burial in Israel later this week.
"He thought and he acted as he thought was right," Arie Librescu said. "Science and lecturing -- that was really his life. And he protected it with his life."
Hadassah head tapped as conference leader
June Walker, national president of Hadassah, was tapped to chair the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The conference's Nominating Committee named Walker to succeed Harold Tanner, beginning June 1. Tanner said he was "delighted" with the committee's choice. Walker "has been a longtime leader and is highly conversant in the issues facing the Conference of Presidents. She has been an outstanding leader with one of the largest and most important organizations. She is well known in the U.S., Israel and Jewish communities abroad," Tanner said in a statement released by the group Monday. The nomination will be voted on by the conference's 50 member organizations.
Ariel Sharon said to be sentient
Ariel Sharon's condition has improved and he is responsive, a relative was quoted as saying.
Israel's Channel 10 television on April 13 quoted the former prime minister's son, Omri, as saying that his bedridden father watches television and can answer questions such as "Does it hurt?" by moving his eyes and clenching his hand. Doctors who have been caring for Sharon, 78, since he was felled by a stroke last year declined comment. Sharon is in a long-term coma ward and is not expected to make a full recovery.
Candidate: 'Making money part of Jewish tradition'
Making money is part of the Jewish tradition, a U.S. presidential candidate said in a speech to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money," Republican hopeful and former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson said Monday. "You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition."
After being made aware that his remarks were problematic, Thompson returned to the podium and told the several-hundred activists assembled, "I just want to clarify something because I didn't in any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things.
"What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. You have been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that and if anybody took what I said wrong, I apologize. I may have mischaracterized it. You are very successful. I applaud you for that."
During the speech, Thompson also called himself the governor of the first state to buy "Jewish bonds" -- presumably meaning Israel Bonds -- and said his friend who persuaded him to buy the bonds was also a big supporter of the "Jewish Defense League" -- probably meaning the Anti-Defamation League, not the militant group.