Community helps out Va. Tech Jews

The Virginia Tech Hillel and Blacksburg Jewish Community Center on April 17. (Lindsay Katona)

The Virginia Tech Hillel and Blacksburg Jewish Community Center on April 17. (Lindsay Katona)

NEW YORK (JTA) – Two weeks after the massacre at Virginia Tech, the national Jewish community is helping Jews on campus and in the surrounding town of Blacksburg to heal.Tens of thousands of dollars are pouring into the Virginia Tech Hillel chapter to provide services for the university’s 1,400 Jewish students.No Jewish students were killed during Seung-Hui Cho’s shooting rampage that took 32 lives and his own.The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for the North
American federations, gave an immediate $10,000 through its emergency
and disaster relief committee. The campus Hillel also received checks from individual federations and private donors all over the world, director Sue Kurtz said. The UJC has been working with seven or eight individual federations to help coordinate donations, Howard Feinberg, managing director of UJC Consulting, said on a conference call Monday.Hillel has used the money to hold nightly communal dinners for Jewish students on campus, as well as to hold several barbecues and Shabbat services. The events have drawn 50 to 150 students each, about a 50 percent increase over usual Hillel events, Kurtz said. “I know the students are moving on,” Kurtz said. “A majority of them have stayed here and are going to classes. Most are not taking finals, but they are back in classrooms.She added: “There is still stress, but they are moving forward in a positive way.” The UJC also has paid for grief counseling, flying in Rabbi Zahara Davidowitz-Farkas from Phoenix to work with students and members of 200 or so Jewish families who live in Blacksburg.Davidowitz-Farkas is a member of the National Spiritual Care Disaster Response Team, which also helped counsel Hurricane Katrina victims. Ellen Piilonen, a licensed mental health counselor, Virginia Tech English professor and former director of the religious school at the Blacksburg Jewish Community Center, the area’s only synagogue, also has been working with students and local residents. Though the students seem to have stabilized, Piilonen said the real concern is a delayed reaction to the trauma. There is also potential for secondary trauma once they leave Blacksburg and return to their homes for the summer when the semester ends in two weeks, she said. The Jewish United Fund: Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago will send a team of professionals to Virginia Tech to help coordinate support services in students’ hometowns, Feinberg said. The Virginia Tech Hillel, which has an annual budget of about $200,000, will use the tens of thousands of dollars it expects to receive to coordinate programming to help students when they return to school in the fall, Kurtz said. “I heard the worst of the worst,” Piilonen said. “I was working with families of victims, then with Blacksburg police, and with the Virginia Tech rescue squad. These are kids who are 20 years old who went into classrooms and saw things that were just unimaginable. … These images are just starting to fan out.”

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