This article appeared in the May 26, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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When faced with hate, Rabbi Litvin educates

Courtesy of Rabbi Shlomo Litvin
Rabbi Shlomo Litvin poses with a portrait of his spiritual mentor and inspiration, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Noelle Swan
Weekly Editor

Rabbi Shlomo Litvin loves to talk.

In years past, he’s parked himself at a table on the University of Kentucky campus where he works, with a sign prompting passersby to “Ask the rabbi anything.” The pandemic put a damper on his goal of having coffee with 100 strangers a year, but he’s found fresh ways to connect with new people, hosting discussions on the audio-only app Clubhouse. His one rule is that everyone asking a question must be ready to learn.

So when he was confronted with an antisemitic slur outside his family home on campus this spring, it was no surprise that he insisted on talking to “the yeller.”

A graduation party was bouncing across the street and Rabbi Litvin was on the phone with a student, when the slur cut through the night like a knife: “Kill the ----s.” 

Rabbi Litvin could have called the police or reported the hateful speech. But he believes that “in a place of great darkness, a small amount of light makes a great glow.” So he crossed the street.

After an hour, the person who had yelled the slur came outside. Alone, the two men spoke about the history of antisemitism, including losses suffered by the rabbi’s own family during the Holocaust.

The young man grew apologetic, and the rabbi invited him over for Shabbat dinner, for coffee, or just to talk. So far, the student hasn’t taken him up on it, but Rabbi Litvin says these kinds of conversations sometimes spark new friendships. 

That’s what happened when a student asked him how Jews ended up controlling the banking industry, a stereotype that underpins some conspiracy theories. Rabbi Litvin calmly explained the historical roots of that particular misconception. That student became a regular at the rabbi’s Purim celebrations.

In this and so many other instances, the rabbi might have been forgiven for responding with a rebuke. But that approach, he says, doesn’t allow the other person any room for growth or grace. 

“The lie has to be countered,” Rabbi Litvin says. “But the whole conversation doesn’t have to be a condemnation.”

This article appeared in the May 26, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 05/26 edition
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