A Lexington man has been arrested after making threats to a local religious leader and to the Chabad Jewish Student Center, which is located just off the University of Kentucky campus.
Police say on Thursday, August 10, a local Rabbi contacted detectives from the personal crimes section regarding harassing communications they had received over several days. The messages contained hate speech and threats focused on the Jewish faith.
“It was horrifying,” said Chabad of the Bluegrass Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, who identified himself to LEX 18 as the person who received the messages. “I think it’s a startling picture into what’s considered acceptable today. The ideas expressed there were homophobic, racist, and, of course, anti-Semitic.”
Detectives were able to identify and locate the suspect, 58-year-old Sendil Nathan. He is charged with terroristic threatening (2nd degree) and is being held at the Fayette County Detention Center. StopAntisemitism shared an image of Nathan to Twitter.
Litvin is used to receiving antisemitic threats, but nothing like he’s received over the past few weeks, he said.
“These threats were unique for two reasons,” said Rabbi Litvin. “Number one was the frequency of the messages. First, once every 24 hours and then several times over a 24-hour period. And secondly, the wording that was used included words like exterminate, goose-stepping into the gas chambers, mapping Chabad, bombing Chabad… these were words that certainly raised the alarm of our security team and made us reach out to law enforcement.”
Those references to the Holocaust, the mentions of gas chambers and exterminations in particular, conjure up imagery that can feel for many Jews like a dagger in the heart. The Holocaust, where 6 million Jews died, remains a recent memory for Jews, Litvin said.
“It strikes a definite call that you are not safe, that you cannot rely on the society around you, you cannot rely on the promise of America against this threat of antisemitism,” Litvin said.
Many of the threats to Litvin/Chabad included a college element, with messages mentioning the University of Kentucky, Litvin said.
Despite the threats, Litvin makes clear that Lexington is still a safe city for members of the Jewish faith.
“The Lexington community, when they see hatred, steps up, we speak out, and we condemn and address it, and Lexington Police Department has done that,” said Rabbi Litvin. “It’s a fulfillment of that biblical command to appoint just policemen and just judges to establish the law of the land, and it helps me feel secure even as tshreats are made.”
Often antisemitic threats go unsolved or ignored by officials, he said, adding he’s grateful that didn’t happen here.
Litvin said the response needs to be twofold. Ordinary people need to speak up and say the hate is not acceptable, and Jewish community members need to make it clear they are not intimidated and that they are not going anywhere, Litvin said.
Litvin said that in the next day, he’ll announce their intention to move to a permanent location in Lexington. It’ll allow them to increase security measures.
“A 24/7 Jewish center serving the students and the surrounding community,” Litvin said. “It’s Chabad’s way of saying we are not intimidated. The calls for our extermination will not have their desired effect, and we’re going to be here, and we’re going to grow.”
Litvin was in contact with the FBI about the threats, he said.
“We are just learning of these allegations. No one should be subject to threats, discrimination or intimidation,” the University of Kentucky said in a statement. “As the Chabad Center is not affiliated with the institution and is located off campus, our understanding is that Lexington police are investigating.”
UK says there is a Chabad student organization with student leaders, and the university is reaching out to those members to provide support.