After denouncing racist, antisemitic fliers left around his community earlier this month and then being threatened by a neo-Nazi leader, Rabbi Shlomo Litvin of Lexington, KY aims to educate others on what Judaism and antisemitism are all about.
The trouble began more than a week ago when people in suburban Lexington neighborhoods received fliers urging “Aryan men and women stand up” and said, in part, “Blood and Soil … Jews will not replace us, Blacks will not replace us, Mexicans and will not replace us … .”
Litvin and his wife, Shoshi, who co-direct Chabad of the Bluegrass, soon received calls from people who received the letter.
“We are at a hyper-sensitive time in our history when we need to be vigilant and after [the killing of Jews in] Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City and Monsey, people are on guard,” he said. “So the Jews who saw the fliers wanted a response, and the non-Jews who saw it wanted to assure me that they got the flier but that it doesn’t speak for them, which is exactly the right response.”
Litvin is accustomed to being the voice of local Judaism and has a history of countering hate and fostering diversity in the Bluegrass State. He is a certified Holocaust educator through Yad Vashem and serves as a commissioner of Human Rights for Commonwealth Kentucky, as well as a member of Lexington’s Mayoral Commission for Racial Justice and Equality.
A lifelong resident of Kentucky, Litvin was born and raised in Louisville, where his parents, Avrohom and Goldie Litvin, established a Chabad House in 1985. He estimates there about 8,000 Jews in the state and about 1,800 in the Lexington area. In addition to helping the Jews who live in their area, the Litvins also work with students at the University of Kentucky.
To counter the hate-filled flier, the Litvins created one of their one of their own that said, “You Matter … remember you are irreplaceable! Your unique background and experience add to our incredible community.”
The rabbi was also featured on local media. That was when the situation turned personal.
When he received a call from a number he wasn’t familiar with on Monday, Litvin didn’t hesitate to answer; as a Chabad rabbi, he’s used to calls from people he doesn’t know.
“He asked if I was Rabbi Litvin, and I said I was. He then said, ‘This isn’t a death threat,’ but he launched into a rant, a diatribe. He said he was with the organization that spread the fliers, and I lied about him in media and he has the video to prove it … and with my counter letter, I broke the law. This was in between various curse words. And then said that ‘My Jewish blood will not protect me.’ ”
Litvin who has a young family at home, immediately called law enforcement, including the Fayetteville County Sheriff, the Lexington police and the FBI. He also alerted the security office from Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., in addition to other local Chabad emissaries.
The fliers were allegedly left around the city by people affiliated with the 14 First the Foundation, a neo-Nazi group, and the call was traced to the group’s organizer in Washington state. The group has reportedly left hate-filled fliers in other cities including Austin in recent days.
Since the call, security has been increased at the Chabad of the Bluegrass and at the Livtins’ home. But the rabbi is not letting the call or the fliers scare him away.
“This hasn’t hampered our efforts in any way,” he said.
In fact, the Litvins are planning to provide two courses: One is a primer on Judaism, and the other will be a detailed class on what constitutes anti-Semitism and how to identify it. Via Facebook, some donors have stepped up to help fund the classes, which will be taught online, though more is needed due to the increased security costs in recent days.
As for the Litvins themselves, they are heartened by the response of the local community, Christian clergy and African-American leaders in Lexington. “There was just a tremendous response,” said Litvin. “Everyone has been absolutely incredible and supportive.”