The shooting spree last week at Virginia Tech that killed 32 students and faculty members has convinced leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement that a Chabad Student Center is needed there immediately, according to Rabbi Yossel Kranz, executive director of the Richmond-based Chabad of the Virginias.”
Although the plans were there [for such a building], in light of the tragedy we decided to fast-track it so we could have a rabbi there for the students,” he explained. Rabbi Kranz said his office is already in touch with university officials in Blacksburg to “find out what the options are and the opportunities for a building or real estate on or near the campus.”
There are currently Chabad Student Centers on more than 100 campuses, and the organization offers various activities at an additional 150 universities worldwide. Assel Arad, a freshman at Virginia Tech from Israel who had lobbied for months for Chabad to open a facility on campus, said he was so glad to learn that Chabad would soon be moving there that he cancelled plans to transfer next year to the University of Memphis, which he said has about 9,000 Jewish students compared with 1,200 at Virginia Tech.
“My mom said it was a sign that I should stay here,” Arad said of the Chabad decision. He said she told him also that the campus shooting is something that “could have happened anywhere.”
Rabbi Kranz said he did not know how much a new Chabad Student Center at Virginia Tech would cost, but he said one could be opened “in a month or three months, depending on the right people and the location and financial support we get. Everything is being fast tracked to get a [Chabad] family out here, but we would also like to have a facility for the students.”
Until a center is built, Rabbi Kranz said a building might be rented or a Chabad rabbi and his family might just simply move to the community. But he stressed that a facility is needed.
“It would be helpful for students to have a place to go and to call home,” he explained. “As time goes on, it will not get easier for the students at Virginia Tech; in the short run, it will get more difficult. Having a place where Jewish students could go and sit and be with other Jewish students and have a rabbi to talk to can be very comforting.”
There is a Hillel on campus, but there is no rabbi in the area.
Rabbi Shlomo Mayer, director of the Chabad House of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, said he is two hours away from Virginia Tech, and that the closest rabbis to it are in Roanoke, Va.
Classes resumed Monday at Virginia Tech, but Arad said that although “people walked into class, nobody studied. They just talked about what was happening with classes now and people were informed of their grades. We were told we could take that grade or take the final exam in the hope of getting a better grade.”
Anat Elazari, a graduate student at Virginia Tech who is also from Israel, said she went to three classes on Monday and found it “really tough to concentrate.”
She, along with Sue Kurtz, the executive director of Virginia Tech’s Hillel, read from the Biblical book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) during a convocation the day after the violence. It was intended to bring the campus community together, and the two women alternated reading the verses in Hebrew and in English.
“Let us draw strength from one another to move from a time of violence and sorrow to a time of healing and peace,” Kurtz read in English. “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.”
Elazari said she found the experience “very emotional.”
She said she was not sure if she would take one or two finals after classes end next week.
“It’s so hard to concentrate that if I have a good grade in a class I’ll take it,” Elazari said. The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for Jewish federations in North America, announced that it would provide the university’s Hillel with an emergency grant of $10,000.