Tag Archives: Tel Aviv University

Jew of the Week: Liviu Librescu

The Holocaust Survivor Who Saved a Classroom

Liviu Librescu (1930-2007) was born in Ploiesti, Romania. In November of 1940, the Romanian government allied with Nazi Germany, and Librescu’s family was deported to a labour camp. Eventually, they ended up in the Focsani Ghetto from which Librescu was liberated in 1945. He stayed in Romania and enrolled in aerospace engineering studies (inspired by his time watching birds fly in and out of the ghetto). A year after graduating he joined the Bucharest Institute of Applied Mechanics where he served as a researcher for 22 years. In 1969, Librescu earned his Ph.D in fluid dynamics, and wrote some very important papers that were unfortunately unknown in the West. He was also recruited by the government to work on top secret military projects. However, Librescu was soon fired for refusing to swear allegiance to the Romanian Communist Party and for requesting to emigrate to Israel. Thankfully, one of his groundbreaking research papers was smuggled out of Romania and brought him international attention. It reached the desk of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who personally put pressure on the Romanian government to free Librescu. In 1978, the Romanians relented and Librescu made aliyah to the Holy Land. For the next seven years, Librescu taught at Tel-Aviv University and the world-famous Technion in Haifa. In 1985, he took a sabbatical year and visited Virginia Tech in the US. He decided to stay and joined their Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. Librescu went on to become one of Virginia Tech’s most famous and beloved professors. He is credited with publishing more papers (250) than any other Virginia Tech professor, and among his many awards are a Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research and a Frank J. Maher Award for Excellence in Engineering Education. He was also on the editorial boards of seven scientific journals, and a guest editor of five more. On April 16, 2007, Librescu was teaching his regular class when a gunman walked into the engineering building at Virginia Tech and opened fire. When the gunman tried to enter Librescu’s classroom, the professor blocked the door and told his students to escape through the windows. He was fatally shot five times. All but one of his students were able to escape. The remaining 22 were saved by Librescu’s heroic actions. In a horrible twist of irony, the Virginia Tech shooting took place on the 27th of Nisan – Holocaust Memorial Day. President Băsescu of Romania posthumously awarded Librescu the Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania (the country’s highest civilian honour), and renamed the street in front of the US Embassy in Bucharest after him. Virginia Tech’s Jewish Student Center is now named after him, too, as is a professorship at Columbia Law School. He was called the “Most Inspiring Person of 2007”. President George W. Bush eulogized Librescu with the following words: “With the gunman set to enter his class, this brave professor blocked the door with his body while his students fled to safety. On the Day of Remembrance, this Holocaust survivor gave his own life so that others may live.”

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Words of the Week

Few are guilty; all are responsible.
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jew of the Week: Avi Issacharoff

Creator of Hit TV Show Fauda

Avi Issacharoff (b. 1973) was born in Jerusalem to a 7th generation Bukharian-Israeli family. His ancestors were among the first settlers of the famed Bukharian Quarter of Jerusalem. Although his family had built the Issacharoff-Babayev Synagogue of Jerusalem, Issacharoff himself was raised in Givat Shaul and attended its Kurdi synagogue. There, he picked up Arabic and would go on to become fluent in the language. This allowed Issacharoff to serve in the prestigious IDF Unit 217, also known as Duvdevan (“Cherry”), the elite special forces of the Commando Brigade, famous for their undercover work in Arab territories. Following his service, Issacharoff studied at Ben-Gurion University, then got an MA from Tel Aviv University. His first big role was as a Middle East Affairs Correspondent for Israel Radio. In 2002, he won a Best Reporter Award for his coverage of the Second Intifada. Shortly after, he began writing his first book (together with Amos Harel), called The Seventh War: How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians. The award-winning book was translated into French and Arabic, and became a Middle Eastern bestseller. The two later wrote another award-winning and bestselling book about the 2006 Lebanon War. Meanwhile, Issacharoff moved over to work at Ha’aretz as its Palestinian and Arab Affairs Correspondent. In 2014, he and a cameraman were beaten by Palestinian rioters. After producing, writing, and directing a number of short documentaries, Issacharoff teamed up with actor Lior Raz (a fellow Duvdevan veteran) to create Fauda, a new television show about Israeli secret agents in Palestinian communities. The show – based on their own experiences – became a huge hit, and won six Ophir Awards (the Israeli Oscars). It was eventually picked up by Netflix and streamed in 190 countries. Last month, The New York Times called it the best international show of 2017. Its long-awaited second season is now on air, and a third is coming next year. Meanwhile, Issacharoff still writes regularly, now as the Middle East Analyst for The Times of Israel and Walla!, Israel’s largest news portal. He is also a lecturer at Tel Aviv University. In a recent interview, he said how he fondly remembers Pesach seders at his grandfather’s house, where everyone wore joma, the traditional Bukharian robes, and that one of his favourite pastimes to this day is cooking Bukharian food.

Words of the Week

They don’t speak enough about the Kurds, because we have never taken hostages, never hijacked a plane. But I am proud of this. We have only three advantages: our willingness to sacrifice our bodies, our high morale, and if those fail us, we always have the mountains. Because they are our only friends.
– Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, on why there is so much support for Palestinians, but none for Kurds