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House of Faith Honors Tech Hero

November 6, 2007

By Rex Bowman

BLACKSBURG, Va. - In a quaint but spacious bed and breakfast here at the edge of the Virginia Tech campus, the university's Jewish students and teachers hope to create a place they can call their own.

Chabad of Virginia, a Jewish missionary group headquartered in Henrico County, is opening the Librescu Chabad House in L'Arche Bed and Breakfast in January, when Rabbi Elazar Bloom moves in with his family. Bloom, who currently lives in Charlotte, N.C., will be Blacksburg's only rabbi.

The house is named after Liviu Librescu, the professor killed April 16 while trying to bar the door against a gunman. It will provide students a place to worship, partake of Sabbath and holiday meals, seek counseling and study the Torah and Judaism, according to its organizers. The house is one block from Tech's campus, on Wall Street. Students can stay at the Chabad House overnight free of charge.

"I'm very excited about the Chabad House coming," said graduate student Robert "Bobby" Lillianfeld. "I expect it'll be a draw to observant Jewish students like myself."

Lillianfeld, pursuing a doctoral degree in physics after obtaining a bachelor's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he was hesitant about coming to Tech after determining that resources for Jews were sparse. The Chabad House, he said, will fill a void for him.

Chabad, one of the largest Hasidic branches, is not the only Jewish group at work on Tech's campus, where there are an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 Jewish students and faculty members. The Hillel organization operates in Blacksburg and organizes Friday night worship services for students at the Blacksburg Jewish Community Center; but Hillel is more geared toward the social and cultural life of Tech's Jewish students.

"I think Chabad will fill the need of those students who want a more religious experience at Virginia Tech," said graduate student Amanda Veazey, who is the new student president of the Librescu Chabad House. "My fiancÚ and I will be there a lot."

Chabad of Virginia has been contemplating opening a house at Tech for several years, said Rabbi Yossel Kranz, executive director. The organization has 10 houses statewide, including some near college campuses. But the drive to put a house at Tech became a priority after April 16, after Librescu's efforts to hold the door long enough to allow his students to jump from the windows earned him worldwide acclaim. Thirty-two students and teachers were killed during the gunman's rampage.

A Web site for the Librescu Chabad House notes that Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, was killed on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"The heroic act of Professor Librescu in the pit of that darkness inspired not only the Jewish students and faculty of Virginia Tech, but really throughout the world," Bloom said. Naming the house after Librescu, Bloom said, will help memorialize his deed.

Bloom and his wife, Rivkah, will be co-directors of the 5,000-square-foot house when it opens Jan. 14, in time for the next academic semester. Bloom, 31, is currently traveling to Blacksburg once a week to meet with students and arrange details of the house's opening, but will soon move in with his wife and three small sons, the oldest of whom is 3.

Chabad of Virginia hopes eventually to buy the house for $900,000 but has so far raised only a quarter of the money, Kranz said. He added that he is uncertain whether the organization can raise the rest but hopes there are donors who realize the worth of the project.

"On the one hand, $900,000 is a lot of money," he said, "but on the other hand, it's not a lot of money. It would take just a few alumni who wanted to honor the professor. And given the tragedy there, having a place where a Jewish student - or any student - can come talk to a rabbi, feel at home and relax will be very beneficial."

For more information on the Librescu Chabad House, go online to www.jewishvt.com. To make a donation, send checks to the Librescu Memorial Fund, 212 North Gaskins Road, Richmond, VA 23238.

Contact Rex Bowman at (540) 344-3612 or rbowman@timesdispatch.com