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My Campus Chabad Felt Like Home. Who Would Set It on Fire?
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The View From Campus

My Campus Chabad Felt Like Home. Who Would Set It on Fire?

A global community responds to an act of arson at the University of Delaware.

The Aug. 25, 2020 fire at the Chabad Center at the University of Delaware has been ruled an arson. (Dave Wilson/ Aetna Hose, Hook & Ladder Company)
The Aug. 25, 2020 fire at the Chabad Center at the University of Delaware has been ruled an arson. (Dave Wilson/ Aetna Hose, Hook & Ladder Company)

From my first ever Shabbat as a freshman at the University of Delaware, Chabad UD felt like home.

Rabbi Avremel and Rebbezin Shulie Vogel welcomed all students new and old to their Little Blue House on South College Ave for a delicious Friday night meal. Even from the first minutes of meeting them, I admired their devotion to better the Jewish community at UD, and quite honestly they were the reason why I and all my friends kept returning each week.

They have allowed me to transform from someone who just comes to Shabbat dinners each week, to being a leader within the Jewish community on campus, serving as a member on the Chabad Steering Committee. They created a family, one that I am so lucky to be a part of.

In 2017, my freshman year, Shabbat dinners were small, around 40 students. But the Chabad community was just beginning to grow. Fast forward to 2019, my junior year, and hundreds of students were coming for Shabbat dinner. My favorite moments in the Little Blue House have been gathering together for those Shabbat meals. The food is great, the company even better, and the fact that we can all be in one place, where we all feel at home, is the best feeling to exist.

But on the evening of Aug. 25 at around 11pm, that “Little Blue House” was intentionally set on fire. The fire was set at the back of the home, but it spread throughout the entire property, leaving the home too damaged for future use.

Haley Levine (Courtesy)

The moment I heard the news of the arson, I was completely devastated. To think that a place that I went to every Friday night and spent countless hours at a week was up in flames was not something I would ever imagine happening, not at UD.

This horrific event left many students in the Jewish community at UD feeling upset and angry. They couldn’t fathom the idea of someone trying to target a place that brought so much love and happiness into the community.

We couldn’t fathom the idea of someone trying to target a place that brought so much love and happiness into the community.

Although the police department and detectives have not ruled the attack as an anti-Semitic act, many students felt that it was an attack on the Jewish community. Chabad House is located on a main road with many other buildings, none of which has a menorah on the front lawn or a big sign that says “Chabad Jewish Center.”

Nevertheless, the Chabad community wanted to move past it by turning our loss into a positive future.

Just a day after the arson occurred, a group of students, including me, decided to start a GoFundMe page to help rebuild the Chabad House. Our goal was to raise around $5,000, to be able to give back to Rabbi Avremel and Shulie and help in any way that we could. When students found out about the GoFundMe page, they took to social media to spread the link and it went viral. The link to the fundraiser didn’t just reach people at UD, but all over the world. With shares through Instagram and Facebook, word traveled fast; in less than 24 hours, we reached our goal and even surpassed it.

By Sept. 2, our GoFundMe ended up raising over $500,000. And now, three weeks since the arson, the amount is still continuing to increase. This truly was something none of us could have imagined. Through the power of social media and all the love and support from our community, outside our community and all around the world, we are on our way to creating a beautiful new home for the Jewish students at UD.

A Global Response

Just from the impact of the GoFundMe page, we realized that we have the ability to use our voice and inspire others to do a mitzvah. Almost 10,000 people have donated to the rebuild. People outside of the Jewish community at UD have reached out to Rabbi Avremel, Shulie and the Chabad Steering Committee asking what they can do to help to get the Chabad community back on our feet.

Many people have asked, are students still scared? What does this arson mean for the Jewish community at UD? Can you continue serving the Jewish students on campus? Although there might be some students who still feel scared, because the motives of the arsonist is still unknown, and the perpetrator hasn’t been caught, most of the Jewish community here at UD is proud to continue to support Chabad and show how an event like this can make us stronger.

Students are still showing up to Shabbat dinner and are willing to come to future events. As students we have to bounce right back from this and continue to show our support in any way that we can: giving our time to help clean up what is left of the house; coming up with ideas on how to continue to serve the Jewish students on campus; offering our help in setting up Shabbat meals and events; and finding people to donate tables, chairs and other necessary items lost in the fire.

The “Little Blue House” before the fire. (Facebook)

Just a week after the arson, Chabad was able to successfully host a Shabbat dinner outside with the help from students, the University, the town of Newark, and caterers. We wanted to show that we were still able to serve students and help them bring in Shabbat. We plan to continue on as we typically would if our Little Blue House was still standing, by offering holiday services, Shabbat dinners, classes, and events — all of which will be outside, following COVID guidelines.

As for the rebuild, things are going great. We are now in talks with the architects and are banging out a plan that will really compliment the space for the students. Once those plans are finished, we will then start the lengthy process of applying for the permits needed to build the property.

We would love to say that the new Chabad House will be built within the next year, but construction has its own way of working. So we are hoping to be able to have our grand reopening of the Chabad House within the next two years. We are excited for all those who have donated and supported us, to be able to see what their donations can create!

Haley Levine is a senior at the University of Delaware studying communications.

Debates over Israel, mental health challenges, anti-Semitism, creating a strong Jewish life — young Jews experience a lot in college. The View From Campus is a column for them to tell The Jewish Week, and you, all about it. Want to write for us? Send a draft or pitch to Lev Gringauz at lev@jewishweek.org.

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