"Lubavitch Cheder" alumni among
response to Virginia Tech Tragedy

Within hours of the tragic slayings at Virginia Tech, a team of rabbis spanning Israel, New York and Virginia was working feverishly to help the family of one of the victims.1 Librescu funeral (12).jpg

When Rabbi Motti Seligson, an alumnus of Oak Park's Lubavitch School, first heard news of the massacre, he had no idea that he would soon be drawn into the aftermath himself.

Yet, through his office at the Chabad Lubavitch Media Center, he helped make the necessary connections between Israel and Virginia that enabled slain Professor Liviu Librescu to be buried according to his family's wishes and beliefs.

By 1 a.m. Tuesday, Rabbi Danny Cohen of the Chabad emissary in Hebron, Israel was trying to reach the Chabad representatives in Virginia. Cohen is a close friend of Ariyeh Librescu, the son of the murdered professor.

Ariyeh was making plans to fly to America to escort his father's body back to Israel for burial and had been told by officials that the earliest day his father's body would be released would be Friday morning.

Still in shock over what had happened, Ariyeh wasn't in a position to navigate official channels to ensure an earlier release. At the same time, the idea of his father's body remaining unburied for so long - something viewed in Judaism as disrespectful and discomforting to the soul of the deceased- added to his grief.

Immediately, Cohen offered to ask Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis in America to care for his father's body so Ariyeh could remain in Israel to arrange the funeral.

Chabad-Lubavitch is a worldwide Jewish movement known for its outreach and humanitarian activities, and Ariyeh accepted the offer with relief, sure his father would be in good hands.

By 10 a.m. Tuesday, Cohen had successfully contacted Chabad of Virginia.

Oak Park native Rabbi Yossel Kranz, now the head of the Virginia branch of Chabad-Lubavitch's Jewish outreach activities, immediately began making phone calls to state officials and congressmen to ensure an early release of the professor's remains.

The story of Liviu Librescu's heroism - he used his own body to barricade the door to his classroom, allowing his students to escape unharmed while sacrificing his own life - had already reached those same offices.

In addition to being obligated to respect religious requirements and allowing an immediate release and burial, state officials were eager to show honor to someone who had died while saving others.

Still, it was only after many phone calls on Kranz's part that all requirements had been met, and the professor's body was released for burial, the first to be released.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Seligson was following the situation. It became clear as the week continued that no one was going to be accompanying Marlena, Liviu's widow, on the flight. Not willing to let her fly to her husband's funeral alone, Seligson booked a seat on the same flight Thursday night.

2 Librescu funeral (2).jpgWhile studying in the Lubavitch community in Oak Park, Seligson absorbed an unusual commitment to reaching out to help those in need.

As a student at the local Lubavitch School, he remembers going each Friday to area businesses to teach, to listen, to be there when people needed someone to talk to. That emphasis on developing compassion from an early age made it feel perfectly natural to this 24-year-old rabbi to drop everything in his own life and fly to another country for four days, so that someone he'd never met before wouldn't feel alone in her grief.

"On the way, we spoke about the projects which Chabad is undertaking in honor of her husband. That Friday, after her husband's funeral, Jewish women around the world would light the traditional Sabbath candles in honor of her husband.

Plans for starting a Chabad House at Virginia Tech have been speeded up, and the center will be named after her husband. These things really comforted her, Seligson said.

The Librescus were always proud of their Jewish heritage. The increase in Jewish life at Virginia Tech will be a comfort to the entire family.

Halfway across the country, Jewish students in Oak Park learn from the heroic deed of Librescu, the life-affirming response to tragedy exemplified by his family, and the compassionate outreach of two rabbis from Oak Park. Proof that one person's deeds can make a difference.

Click here to read this story in The Oakland Press:

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