newsAntisemitism

Chabad not going away after antisemitic incidents in Kentucky, rabbi says

“There is no reason for a Jewish student in Lexington to be afraid,” said Rabbi Shlomo Litvin of Chabad at the University of Kentucky.

Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, co-director of Chabad of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Ky., as well as chairman of the Kentucky Jewish Council. Credit: Courtesy.
Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, co-director of Chabad of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Ky., as well as chairman of the Kentucky Jewish Council. Credit: Courtesy.

A Kentucky man was arrested on Monday and charged with second-degree terrorist threats for intimidating a Chabad rabbi and the Chabad at the University of Kentucky Jewish Student Center in Lexington, Ky.

A local rabbi notified detectives from the Lexington Police Department’s personal crimes section about “harassing communications they had received over several days. The messages contained hate speech and threats focused on the Jewish faith,” according to a police spokesperson.

Detectives identified and located the suspect, Sendil Nathan, 58, who is being held at the Fayette County Detention Center on a $10,000 bond.

The police did not identify the rabbi by name, but Shlomo Litvin, co-director of Chabad of the Bluegrass and Chabad at the university’s Jewish Student Center, told JNS that he was the one to contact the police. The suspect had contacted him in June and spewed conspiracy theories about Jews in America, he said.

The suspect’s communications last week escalated both in frequency—with messages sent on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday—and in content, with threats that were much more insidious in tone.

One mentioned goose-stepping Jews to the gas chamber, Litvin told JNS.

This was not the first time that Litvin and Chabad of the Bluegrass have been targeted by hate. In the summer of 2020, the rabbi received a threatening call after raising awareness about antisemitic fliers dropped on Lexington driveways. A few months later, vandals damaged a menorah outside the Chabad house and the building’s sign.

During Chanukah in December 2020, a man stopped his car in front of the Chabad building and started spewing hate. A congregant confronted the man, who grabbed him and dragged him for a block before running over his leg with the car. No one has been charged in that case.

Litvin told JNS that this week’s Torah portion addressed the biblical commandment to set up judges and policemen to uphold fair laws. “The dedication of the Lexington Police Department is an example of such policing,” he said.

As he spoke to JNS from his front porch, Litvin told JNS that a patrol car stopped by to make sure everything was alright. (His great-grandfather was imprisoned by police in Russia for teaching Torah, he noted as a point of contrast.)

“There is no reason for a Jewish student in Lexington to be afraid,” Litvin said. “Kentucky has been leading the way to fight antisemitism.” The state was the first in the country to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, he noted.

“Seeing the police jump into their quick response mode sent a really powerful message to me and the students,” Litvin said.

In fact, Litvin aims to send his own powerful message amid the anti-Jewish hatred.

To give students a positive focus and something to “rally around and celebrate,” Litvin and his wife Shoshi announced that Chabad of the Bluegrass will build a permanent Chabad house in Lexington. The Litvins have been renting a small home, which has served as the Chabad house.

They have planned to announce a permanent home during an annual barbecue, which they are hosting next week. But the couple decided to accelerate the announcement to make it clear that Chabad “is not going anywhere.”

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