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WKYT Investigates | A surge in anti-semitic incidents across US, Kentucky

Published: Feb. 15, 2021 at 2:23 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Rabbi Shlomo Litvin is the Director of the Chabad of the Bluegrass, a home near the UK campus serving Jewish students.

”I am the second Rabbi in history to be born in Kentucky and serve in Kentucky, the first being my older brother,” Rabbi Litvin said.

Rabbi Litvin has witnessed anti-Semitic attacks, up close and personal. In November of last year, the sign outside the Chabad was damaged for the fourth time in five years. Rabbi Litvin says he heard people yelling, “get the Jews, kill the Jews.”

“This is a national problem which has come here as well,” he said.

Reports of anti-Semitism surged in 2019 across the country, hitting a four-decade high. In the last two years, the Anti-Defamation League reports 11,000 incidents of extremism or anti-Semitism in the US. “More and more Jews are saying, ‘I can’t ignore the small things,’ because ignoring the small things allows larger things to happen,” Rabbi Litvin said.

The ADL’s new interactive map, called H.E.A.T. or Hate, Extremism, Anti-Semitism, Terrorism, allows you to look at reports in each state. Kentucky’s 186 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in Lexington, Louisville, Murray, Versailles, Hebron, Elizabethtown, Paris, Ashland, and Mount Washington.

Some incidents may seem minor, like a man who left anti-Semitic stickers on Lexington businesses last Dec. 31.

“I don’t believe in minor incidences of hate. I believe when you allow something to be considered minor, you’re asking for major incidents of hate,” Litvin said.

In 2018 at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a gunman murdered eleven people and wounded six others. The dead victim’s names and ages line the back of Rabbi Litvin’s Torah.

“Ranging from very young members of the community to some of the community’s elders, several of whom survived the Holocaust,” Rabbi Litvin said.

More recently, the riot at the U.S. Capitol included signs of hate towards Jews. One man wore a shirt that had the name of a Nazi concentration camp where a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered.

“To me, I’ve known these people have always existed. I’m far less betrayed by that shirt, than by the 5,000 people standing around him who had no issue with the shirt,” Rabbi Litvin said.

Rabbi Litvin blames the political climate for a rise in reported incidents.

“Extremism in politics always relies on conspiracy and casting someone as the enemy. And unfortunately Jews have often found themselves in both of those roles,” Rabbi Litvin said.

Dr. Michael Meyer, a professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, believes it’s growing with the help of social media, and inflamed by the pandemic.

“It’s interesting, when there was perhaps the biggest pandemic of all time, the Black Plague in the middle of the 14th Century, the Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. Now in our own pandemic, I have heard that there are extreme anti-Semites who will say, oh, this is the Jew flu. The Jews are responsible for the pandemic,” Dr. Meyer said.

Rabbi Litvin suggests the answer to anti-Semitism is education, but more directly, moral education. Dr. Meyer agrees it should be taught in school.

“One has to teach people to think in terms of humanity, in terms of loving one neighbor as ones self, whether that neighbor is of your religion, of your race, of you way of thinking politically, we’re all human beings,” Dr. Meyer said.

The rise in anti-Semitic acts in this country alarm people like Mike Ades, a third generation Jew in Lexington. His grandfather, David Ades, opened a dry good store on Main Street in 1925. His father Louis later joined in the family business. They are part of small, but strong Jewish community in Lexington. What would his grandfather think, a hundred years later about today’s anti-Semitism?

-”I think he would be just as dismayed, disappointed, and probably angry about it that I am, and many, many Jews in Lexington are,” Ades said.

“What’s needed to combat hate is moral education, is recognizing the inherent worth of every single person, as the foundational documents of our country teach,” Rabbi Litvin said.

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