LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Lexinton’s Jewish community is mourning the tragic loss of 11 people killed in Saturday’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
For Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, who serves as the UK Jewish Student Center, the tragedy hits close to home.
“Hate will never be stronger than light. very little light can dispel a whole lot of darkness,” said Litvin.
Litvin studied in Pttsburgh for more than three years and recalled dropping into Tree of Life Synagogue on many occasions as a student.
His grandfather was a prominent leader in the community, and his grandmother still lives in the Squirrel Hill area where the attack took place.
“Immediately thought of the many synagogues that I took part in, that my grandfather was a leader in, and my family prays in,” said Litvin.
Litvin says Saturday’s attack serves as a harsh reminder that anti-Semitism remains a problem.
“Anti-Semitic attacks amount to 54 percent of hate crimes in the United States, he said. “For the size of the Jewish community in the United States, that is remarkable.”
The alleged gunman, Robert Gregory Bowers, opened fire with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons during worship services inside Tree of Life Synagogue, killing eight men and three women before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him, according to state and federal affidavits made public on Sunday.
Be he said he wants everyone to know that hate will not succeed.
“You killed 11 beautiful people,” Litvin said he wanted the alleged gunman to know. “You killed people with families with community ties, and I would want him to look in the eyes of each of their children or grandchildren.”
He says he has spoken to Lexington Police, and they’ll keep a patrol officer in the area.
Monday night, the UK Jewish Student Center held a vigil to remember the 11 lives lost in Pittsburgh.
The vigil began at 8 p.m. at the center.
The dozens in attendance lit candles, which Rabbi Litvin explained is a symbolic act in the Jewish faith. There was silence as a student read off the names of the 11 killed in the shooting.
There were extra police officers in the neighborhood for safety.
On Monday morning, UK President Eli Capilouto added his voice to those expressing sympathy and concern.
“Senseless violence motivated by hate makes even more urgent our efforts to enable our students to meet and know those who are different; to celebrate our diversity; but also to embrace our common humanity,” he said in a statement. “We must tirelessly prepare our students to not fear difference and to be leaders today and in their future workplaces and communities in overcoming fear and hate. We recommit today our hearts, souls, and minds to answering the call for love and justice.”
And while the Jewish community grieves, other religious leaders in Lexington want them to know, they’re not alone.
“Following our teachers, and following our scriptures, says that we have a responsibility to support and protect one another,” said Waheedah Muhammad.
Muhammad is the chair of the Kentucky chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. She says her heart breaks for her Jewish friends.
“We feel their pain and send our sincere condolences,” said Muhammad.
In the wake of the attack, she says security is on the minds of religious leaders.
“It’s not that we live in a constant fear, but we know that we need to be cautious,” said Muhammad.
She says regardless of faith, Lexington’s religious community sticks together.
— Conor McCue (@Conor_WLEX) October 30, 2018