LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — As the conflict between Hamas and Israel begins taking shape in the Middle East, there are some in Lexington’s Jewish community with deep connections to the area who are still processing the tragic stories and trying to find ways to help.
Rabbi Shlomo Litvin is a well-known figure in central Kentucky’s Jewish community, serving as chairman of the Kentucky Jewish Council. He spent much of Monday praying with students both overseas and in Lexington who are trying to get back to Israel to defend their homes. He called this a traumatic moment in Jewish history.
“For the world to stand by as Jews are slaughtered in the streets of Israel would be a crime of epic proportions that would have its bearings shown throughout history,” Litvin said.
Litvin visits Israel at least once a year. Many family members, including his sister, and many cousins and nephews live or study there. And countless others he’s mentored, whose safety and security are unknown and growing more dire by the day.
“I haven’t eaten breakfast this morning. I don’t know if I’ve eaten at all in the last 36 hours. I got word this morning that one of my students is probably in Gaza kidnapped right now. Um, I’ve lost two students since this started and possibly a third,” Litvin said.
He shared the story of a young man, Jake, whom he met teaching scripture online during the pandemic.
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“One of the people I would often have spirited discussions and debates about Israel, her security, and what we need to do was a young man named Jake, who often served as a security guard in Israel. He was a security guard at the concert that was attacked, where hundreds were murdered. The last words we have for him are ‘I’m calling people, asking them to get to safety,’ thinking about others. And we’ve had no word from him for the last few days. The current reports look like he was kidnapped and brought into Gaza,” Litvin said.
The geopolitical climate of the region is the product of centuries of religious conflict. Members of Lexington’s Islamic community demonstrated downtown this weekend for a free Palestinian state.
“To hear those bloody words, those calls for violence against my family, against my people, and against Jews all across the city, Being yelled at on Main Street is both horrifying and yes, it makes my blood boil,” Litvin said. “I’ll make this very clear. Every single person who was murdered is a part of my family. Every single person who was mutilated, raped, and tortured is part of my people and is an extremely personal loss.”
Litvin said he is grateful to Kentucky’s political leaders who have offered statements of support for Israel; he is asking that they condemn this weekend’s demonstration. The Kentucky Jewish Council is planning a vigil for later this week to pray for Israel; a date has not yet been announced.