Chabad of the Bluegrass is no stranger to antisemitism.
The organization, which in part runs the Jewish Student Center at UK, has been the target of repeated vandalism. The sign outside of its campus house was vandalized for the fourth time in five years in November of 2020.
Shlomo Litvin, rabbi for Chabad and the JSC, said he heard people yelling “get the Jews, kill the Jews” as the sign was damaged.
“This has been happening. This has been the experience,” Litvin said.
The next month, property damage escalated to physical harm.
JSC hosted nightly lightings of the Menorah for Chanukah in December, hoping to promote a sense of togetherness and unity during the pandemic.
On the third night, Dec. 12, Rabbi Litvin and other members of the Chabad were preparing for the service when an unknown driver in a black SUV arrived, shouting profane words at the group. A member of the crowd stepped to the window of the car to block the driver from a clear view of the house entrance, where children were gathered.
The driver grabbed the Chabad member and forcibly dragged them down the street as the vehicle accelerated. When the member was released, the driver then drove over the leg of the member, causing extensive injuries. The member insisted on staying for the Menorah lighting service despite his injured state, according to Rabbi Litvin, after which he was taken to a nearby hospital by emergency services. His injuries were non-life-threatening.
In a Facebook post, Chabad of the Bluegrass reiterated that the lighting of the Menorah would continue as a symbol of light over darkness.
“Tonight's lighting was centered around standing up to hatred, following the antisemitic attack at the Chabad at UK Jewish Student Center and the regrettable silence from some in the aftermath. The fact that this event to was marred by violence is horrifying, but through it all our Menorah has stayed lit.”
Rabbi Litvin and the Chabad of the Bluegrass are planning to launch an online fundraiser to address the medical bills that the individual who was attacked faces and for additional security measures at the house.
The violence at Chabad of the Bluegrass is not isolated; antisemitic attacks have been ramping up in frequency. Arson was committed against A Jewish Center in Delaware multiple times in 2020, and antisemitic flyers advertising for a white supremacy group were found posted in Lexington in November and then again in January.
The JSC hosted an event on modern anti-Semitism last year in hopes of educating the community on just how widespread the issue is.
“It is important to call out the small things. It is how we avoid having to come together for big things,” Rabbi Litvin said when he was asked how students and members of the community can become active voices in the strive towards a just, equal society. “We need to call out anti-Semitic, bigoted actions on Facebook, social media, and on the daily.”
He also stressed that “the vast majority of hatred stems from ignorance.”
State leaders quickly issued statements of support condemning the attack. UK president Eli Capilouto was one of them, calling on the Chanukah tradition as a light of liberty and shared humanity.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the hate incident last evening at the Chabad of the Bluegrass near our campus, ironically occurring in the midst of Chanukah. The person who was injured is in our thoughts and prayers for a full recovery. As the latest lights of Chanukah shine forth, let us be reminded of our mutual responsibility to seek, each day, to let the light of religious freedom and liberty shine brightly for everyone. Hate will have no harbor in our community,” wrote Capilouto.
Gov. Andy Beshear was also quick to speak out against the attack through his Twitter account.
“The anti-Semitic attack reported Saturday night outside of the Jewish Student Center is an outrage. This hate has absolutely no place in the Commonwealth as we build a better Kentucky that is fair and equitable for all of our people. That this attack occurred on the third night of Hanukkah, during menorah-lighting celebrations, makes it all the more hateful, hurtful and cowardly. I ask all Kentuckians to join me in praying for a quick recovery and join me in rejecting hate.”
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington police said the incident escalated from road rage over a blocked car.
Police spokeswoman Brenna Angel told the Herald-Leader that the incident did not appear to be prompted by bias against the victim, but the ultimate decision on whether the act was a hate crime will come from a judge after sentencing.
In regards to the repeated targeting of the Chabad of the Bluegrass, Rabbi Litvin hopes the community to unite for common causes.
“We don’t always want to be on the defensive all the time. We want to build a society that is not fighting against racial segregation, but a society that is fighting for racial justice. It is not fighting against antisemitism. It is fighting for a beloved community,” Litvin said.