Finding heroism amidst tragedy

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

By Brittany Abeijon

Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, was teaching a solid mechanics class in Norris Hall on the Virginia Tech campus April 16. As Seung-Hui Cho tried to enter his classroom, Librescu ordered his students to run for their lives and break the windows while he held the door shut to prevent the gunman from entering the room.

Most of his students escaped through the windows, but Librescu was struck by five bullets, with one shot to the head ending his life. There were 23 students registered in Librescu’s class and only one died.

Rabbi Isaac Neuman spoke Tuesday evening in 404 Illini Union in memory of Librescu – a fellow Holocaust survivor.

“One life saved is as if he had saved a whole universe,” Neuman said. “Professor Librescu did it in his own way.”

The Chabad Jewish Center, 509 S. Fourth St., sponsored the event, with Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, director of the center, introducing Rabbi Isaac Neuman.

Neuman is the Rabbi Emeritus at Sinai Temple, 3104 W. Windsor Road, and author of a memoir “The Narrow Bridge: Beyond the Holocaust” published in 2000 by the University of Illinois Press.

“Tonight is not only about remembering, not only about mourning,” Tiechtel said. “Tonight is about courage in the face of challenges.”

Tiechtel continued with a short prayer given both in Hebrew and English. About 50 people of all ages were present to rise for the prayer.

“Ask yourself, what am I going to do in memory of those people that have passed away?” Tiechtel said.

With a small lit candle in front of him, Rabbi Neuman sat at a white cloth covered table facing the crowd of people and began to speak.

“When these events happened at the Virginia Tech campus, I felt so obsessed by it,” Neuman said. “I feel I have to say something.”

Although Neuman never met Professor Librescu, he said Librescu was the same age and came from the same background as his wife’s family. Both received excellent educations and went on to become known in their field.

Neuman said he wasn’t exactly sure what made him so obsessed because he couldn’t make sense of the cause of the tragic events.

“Just because there are no answers, doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it,” Neuman said.

Rudi Laufhutte, lab director in Noyes Laboratory and friend of Neuman for several years, described his feelings after the Virginia Tech mass killings as horror-stricken and devastated.

“When I heard about the professor, I thought, ‘this is the only positive thing mentioned about the Virginia Tech shooting,'” Laufhutte said. “Professor Librescu stepped up, trying to survive to save and he paid with his life.”

Neuman said that it is important to remember the tragedies, but still move on from them.

“This falling down is for the sake of getting up again,” Neuman said.