Some 400 people were on hand for a dinner at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage held in honor of Liviu Librescu, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University engineering professor who sacrificed his life so that his students could escape a gunman’s fury.

Hosted by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education – a Chabad-Lubavitch organization established at the direction of the Sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory – the 68th Annual Awards Dinner featured a tribute to Librescu and an award presentation to his widow, Marlena Librescu.

“Dr. Librescu’s courageous act and his life is a sanctification of G‑d’s Name,” said Rabbi Shea Hecht, NCFJE chairman. “Thanks to him, many will be able to live on.”

Shortly after the Virginia Tech Massacre, an April 16, 2007 attack by an undergraduate student who left 32 people dead, NCFJE produced “Courage Under Fire,” a short documentary on Librescu’s life and final sacrifice. The New York City public school system then adapted the film for use in sociology classes and as a counseling resource.

After a screening of the film at the Nov. 16 dinner, Marlena Librescu thanked the crowd for honoring her husband, a Romanian immigrant who survived the horrors of World War II, as well as Soviet persecution. On his last day, he blocked the door to his classroom and absorbed the gunman’s bullets.

“I am so happy and proud to be here on behalf of my husband,” said Librescu, who met with four students saved by the professor. “He was so committed to education, and was deeply invested in his students.

“Because of the NCFJE,” she continued, turning to the film, “he can now continue teaching, and students can [continue to] be inspired by him. It is very difficult for me to be without him. Thank you for keeping his spirit alive.”

One of the surviving students, James Cook, gave a short speech on how much his professor meant to him.

“Dr. Librescu was a hero to us even before the massacre,” he said, referring to his tireless dedication to teaching. Now, “he has given us the gift of life.”

James Cook, whose life was saved by Virginia Tech professor Liviu Librescu, speaks at the annual dinner of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education.
James Cook, whose life was saved by Virginia Tech professor Liviu Librescu, speaks at the annual dinner of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education.

A New Lease on Life

Speaking after the event, Ari Librescu recounted how his father’s actions during the massacre did not come as a surprise.

“Before we had any official news about my father, we kept hearing unconfirmed information throughout the day that the gunman might have come to my dad’s classroom,” he related. “My brother and I [said] that if that was so, the gunman had started up with the wrong guy, for my father was very strong, very much into exercise and would not stop at anything to protect people.”

Asked about what he considers to be his father’s legacy, the son sighed and said that the question was difficult, because there was so much to say.

“If I had to say it in a few words, it would be ‘Do the right thing,’ ” said the son. “I often think that if my father would have been present at his burial, he would have been very satisfied with what he did, giving his life for his students was very much in his character.”

For his part, Cook elaborated on Librescu’s special nature.

“I had only known the professor for one semester, but he was so devoted to us,” said Cook. “If I saw him on the street and asked a question, he would talk to me for 15 minutes and ask me how my life was going.”

The student then remarked that he received a new lease on life that fateful day.

“I now appreciate life so much more,” he said. “It’s all because of the professor.”