Comatose student released by North Korea was 'beloved member of Hillel'

Otto Warmbier was detained for a year after stealing a propaganda poster


A campus rabbi who knows Otto Warmbier, the student who was released by North Korea last week, has said the 22-year-old was heavily involved with the Jewish community at the University of Virginia.

Mr Warmbier is in a coma following his return from North Korea, although it is unclear what caused the condition.

Doctors in the US have said he is suffering from a “severe neurological injury.”

Mr Warmbier, from Cincinnati, was on a student tour of North Korea last year when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for stealing a propaganda poster.

The arrest was condemned internationally, but it appears the North Korean authorities only released Mr Warmbier because his health had deteriorated severely.

Rabbi Jake Rubin, the University of Virginia’s Hillel director, told JTA in an email that Mr Warmbier got involved with the campus’s Jewish community after a Birthright trip to Israel in 2014.

The rabbi described Warmbier as “a beloved member of our Hillel community.

“He was a regular at Bagels on Lawn, celebrated Shabbat and holidays at Hillel, and even led a Seder for other students that focused on issues of environmentalism and sustainability,” the rabbi wrote.

“In the simplest interactions Otto always found something of interest and would make you smile. At every stop on Birthright he would try some kind of new food, strike up a conversation with someone new, or find some unique thing to bargain for. He loved life and it was infectious.

“He was always interested in learning more about the world and the people around him. He put everyone at ease with his humour and genuine interest for others,” the rabbi wrote.

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