Lyft lets go of driver for alleged attack on DC rabbi; police not probing as hate crime

Rabbi Menachem Shemtov treated for gash in face after unnamed driver punches him with key in hand amid apparent disagreement over music

Rabbi Menachem Shemtov, left, poses with his father, Rabbi Levi Shemtov in this undated photo at the U.S. Capitol. (Art Spack)
Rabbi Menachem Shemtov, left, poses with his father, Rabbi Levi Shemtov in this undated photo at the U.S. Capitol. (Art Spack)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Lyft has let go of a driver who allegedly assaulted the scion of a prominent Chabad rabbinical family who had used the rideshare app.

“Lyft unequivocally condemns this behavior,” a spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Monday. “Upon learning of this incident, we deactivated the driver and we’ve been in touch with the rider. We encourage riders and drivers to report harassment, discrimination, or safety concerns in the Lyft app.”

The police are investigating the incident but have not classified it as a hate crime.

Rabbi Menachem Shemtov, the director of Chabad at Georgetown University, ordered a Lyft Sunday midmorning on Connecticut Avenue in Washington D.C.’s northwest quarter.

In an interview, Shemtov said he entered and asked the driver to turn down the music, which was very loud. The driver complied but also said that Shemtov could have asked in the app for no music, which Shemtov acknowledged.

Less than a minute later, the driver stopped and told Shemtov to get out of the car, saying he didn’t like his “energy,” Shemtov said.

“I told him, you know, I wish him well, I hope he finds peace and happiness and this is the most aggressive thing that’s happened to me and I get out of the car,” Shemtov said. “And then he gets out of the car and chases me up the block and starts swearing at me like with the F-word and you know, I said, like, ‘Don’t touch me, I’ll call the cops if you hit me,’ or something like that. And he then he punched me in my face.”

Shemtov said the driver punched him again after he tried to stop the driver from leaving.

Shemtov, who was treated at a clinic for a gash to his face, showed JTA video of the driver punching him in the face with with his car key sticking out of his hand. He was treated at a clinic for a gash to his face. According to the police report, which quoted Shemtov and a witness, the alleged assailant shouted “Why’d you slam my door?” as he pursued Shemtov.

In an entry on the charging document marked “suspected hate crime,” the investigating officer checked “No.”

The police report did not name the assailant. Shemtov said he was not the driver whose name appeared on his app. He shared a screenshot of the driver’s cancellation notice, and the driver photo did not resemble the man in the video he shared.

Shemtov’s father is Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who heads American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad). He was leaving the movement’s Washington headquarters after attending services with his father when the alleged assault occurred.

His grandfather is Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, who was close to the movement’s best-known rebbe, the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Abraham Shemtov founded the Washington office and instituted the lighting of a massive Hanukkah menorah on the Ellipse, an event that now draws prominent figures of the administration in power.

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