by Karen Schwartz – Chabad.org
Zack Silverman was just 10 years old when a Virginia Tech senior opened fire on campus on April 17, 2007, killing 32 people and wounding 17 others in what remains the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
Now a student at the university in Blacksburg, Va., Silverman is planning to go to a memorial lecture honoring the life of one of the victims: 76-year-old engineering professor Liviu Librescu, who blocked his classroom door during the attack, allowing enough time for nearly two dozen students to scramble out the windows to safety. In the end, Librescu—a Romanian-born Jew, and a survivor of the Holocaust and Communist rule—was shot and killed.
In his honor, Holocaust survivor Rabbi Nissen Mangel will address the Virginia Tech community on Monday, April 24, the 10th anniversary, or yahrtzeit, of Librescu’s passing on the Jewish calendar. Lionel Arie Librescu, one of the professor’s two sons, will also speak. The 7 p.m. event is sponsored by Chabad’s Librescu Jewish Student Center, co-directed by Rabbi Zvi Yaakov and Chanie Zwiebel, and named for the man who lost his life a decade ago. University officials are expected to be in attendance.
The younger Librescu tells Chabad.org that his father would be surprised by all the attention in his memory: “He would never understand what the fuss was all about because he only did what he thought was right.”
“An evening in his honor is something special,” continues Librescu, “and to have a Chabad center named after him, where students can gather and learn about their heritage, is incredible.”
‘An Important Legacy’
Eric Herwitz, 19, also plans on attending the memorial—to be held at the school’s Moss Arts Center—and is encouraging friends to join him. “I think it’s important that everyone goes,” he says.
The Virginia Tech freshman notes that he is drawn to Librescu’s selflessness.
“He was able to make it in America after living through one of the greatest tragedies in human history, and then pay his life forward and give his life virtuously. For him, that was the only choice. That is a tzaddik,” he says, using the Hebrew term for a “righteous person.”
Rabbi Zwiebel hopes participants come away realizing the importance of Librescu’s actions.
“In the airplane, they always tell you in case of cabin pressure to put your mask on before helping others. This is someone who didn’t do that,” he explains. “He wasn’t a soldier, he wasn’t law enforcement; it wasn’t his job. Nobody would have ever faulted him if he had jumped out of the window, too.
“But he chose to make a decision in that instant to save the students, and that’s an important legacy to remember.”
The event didn’t come without a hitch. On March 18, the day after Chabad announced the speaker and planned memorial, more than 100 leaflets with hand-drawn swastikas were discovered on the Chabad center’s front yard. The incident, which occurred on Shabbat and is the first such act the rabbi knows of, is being investigated by the local police department.
Days later, as many as 500 people from the town and the school, where about 3 percent of the students are Jewish, rallied against hate and anti-Semitism in an effort that garnered national attention. There, the rabbi emphasized positive action, saying: “The way to combat darkness is with light. We don’t fight darkness with darkness; we fight darkness with light.”