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Donations flood Chabad Center as it looks to raise $1 million to rebuild after arson

Dave Wilson, Aetna Hose, Hook & Ladder Company

After the Chabad Center for Jewish Life at the University of Delaware was struck by arson last week, support has poured in for rebuilding.

The state Fire Marshal’s office ruled the fire that heavily damaged the Chabad Center in Newark last week was arson. Officials say investigators have not yet found any evidence the fire was a hate crime, but are continuing to investigate. 

Even so, public officials and politicians have condemned the fire as an act of hostility, and have expressed solidarity with the Jewish community. 

The Chabad Center provides a space for students to study, socialize and relax. It also hosts Shabbat dinner every Friday and programming around holidays.

Rabbi Avremel Vogel is with Chabad Lubavitch of Delaware, the nonprofit separate from UD that serves students at the center. Vogel says students feel their Jewish space on campus has been attacked. 


Credit Michael Romagnoli via Aetna Hose, Hook & Ladder Facebook


“When there’s one house on the block that has a menorah out in front and that’s the house that gets burned down, they right away jump to the conclusion that it must have been something Jewish,” said Vogel. “But we haven’t really been focusing on the victimhood part of it. We’ve been just focusing on what we can do to build from this, and build back better.”

As of Monday, a GoFundMe started by alumni had received more than 8,500 donations totalling  nearly $500,000. The Center’s goal is now to raise $1 million for the first phase of rebuilding, to create a space with double the capacity of the old one. The state Fire Marshal estimated damage from the fire totalled around $75,000. 

Shira Goodman is regional director of the Philadelphia region Anti-Defamation League, which tracks anti-semitic incidents. She says the organization trusts Delaware law enforcement and is waiting patiently for the investigation to conclude. 

“I know that the headline, ‘Chabad house target of arson,’ many people would think … the next line would be that it was intentionally chosen, that it is a hate crime,” said Goodman. “But I think that we have to let the law enforcement folks do their investigation and figure out if this was targeted for a specific reason.”

Goodman says regardless of how the crime is characterized, it affects the community. 

“To see a place that’s a gathering place, a communal hub, a house of worship to go up in flames—regardless of the cause—is definitely hurtful to the community,” she said.

UD is offering counselling for students, faculty and staff in light of the incident. 

“Community at UD is first and foremost characterized by the people and values that define our culture, and also the spaces where we come together to share, learn and grow,” wrote University President Dennis Assanis and Vice President for Student Life José-Luis Riera in a letter to the University community Wednesday. “Please always know that there are support services available to anyone in our community who needs them.”

Newark Mayor Jerry Clifton, Gov. John Carney and even former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have weighed in.

"It is heartbreaking to learn the fire at the Chabad Center was set intentionally,” said Clifton in a statement Thursday. "This is a sickening act of hostility that threatens the safety and security of our inclusive, welcoming neighborhoods. My thoughts are with the Jewish community and those affected by this tragedy."

"This is a place of worship and community, and this kind of violence is unacceptable," wrote Gov. Carney on Facebook Thursday. "Thinking of and praying with Delaware’s Jewish community."

“With anti-Semitism on the rise across the country, we all have a moral obligation to speak out and give hate no safe harbor,” Biden wrote on Twitter Thursday.

The state Fire Marshal announced Monday that another recent fire in Newark, at a townhouse under construction on E. Cleveland Ave., was also set intentionally. State fire investigators say a “person of interest” was captured on video surveillance in the area and are asking for the public’s help in identifying them. 


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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