As a rabbi prepared to light a menorah on the front lawn of a Chabad house near the University of Kentucky’s campus on Saturday night, a black SUV screeched outside. The driver shouted anti-Semitic slurs, police told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
As bystanders rushed to help him, though, the injured man insisted the ceremony continue before getting medical attention, the Chabad’s rabbi said.
“He said, ‘First, let’s light the menorah,’” Rabbi Shlomo Litvin told WKYT. “I’m not going to allow that to stop us from celebrating our faith and spreading the light.”
The incident has sparked a police investigation and widespread condemnation from Kentucky political leaders, who described it as an assault on the Jewish faith.
“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,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said on Twitter. “That this attack occurred on the third night of Hanukkah, during menorah-lighting celebrations, makes it all the more hateful, hurtful and cowardly.”
Anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise in the U.S. in recent years, with the Anti-Defamation League charting a 12 percent jump in its most recent national audit in 2019. Jewish centers on college campuses have particularly been targeted this year, with an arsonist burning down a Chabad house at the University of Delaware in August and neo-Nazi fliers plastered on a Chabad sign at the University of Central Florida in October.
The Chabad of the Bluegrass has also been vandalized this year, with someone bashing in its sign and damaging its menorah last month.
Saturday’s incident in Lexington began as a volunteer camera crew filmed a group of community members preparing to light the menorah. The SUV nearly hit the camera crew, the Chabad said on Facebook, and then the driver became “verbally abusive.”
The community member who stepped in was trying to keep the driver away from children who were in the front room of the Chabad, according to the Facebook post.
After dragging the man through the street, the driver sped away. Police soon responded and the victim, who hasn’t been identified, was treated at a hospital for injuries that weren’t life-threatening, a police spokesperson told the Herald-Leader.
Police said they had video of the incident and were looking for a man in his mid- to late 20s.
“Racism and religious persecution have no place here,” Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton said on Twitter on Sunday. “Those who violated the law will be prosecuted. Let’s join in the spirit of Chanukah, a celebration of good over evil.”
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) called the incident “sickening and unacceptable,” noting he had met previously with Litvin to discuss “the importance of speaking out against anti-semitism in all its forms.”
Litvin said he plans to continue with public menorah lightings to celebrate Hanukkah as police investigate the attack.
“Anything can be used for spirituality or negativity,” he told WKYT. “Anything that happens to you, how you react is what that thing is.”