Jewish center intentionally set on fire at University of Delaware, investigator says

Fire set to Chabad Center at the University of Delaware

Officials are investigating after they say someone set fire to the Chabad Center on the University of Delaware campus on Tuesday, Aug. 25. (Aetna Fire Company)

Updated 2:40 p.m.

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Firefighters found heavy flames coming from the rear of the Chabad Center on the University of Delaware campus in Newark late Tuesday night. No one was in the Jewish center’s building at the time. The state fire marshal has determined that the fire was intentionally set but has stopped short of calling it a hate crime.

“The Fire Marshal’s office has found no indicators that this case was a hate crime, though a thorough investigation continues,” University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis and José-Luis Riera, vice president for student life, said in a statement.

The center is ”an active part of UD’s religious, faith and spiritual diversity. We affirm our solidarity with the Jewish community at this difficult time,” they said.

Fire set to Chabad Center at the University of Delaware
“Anti-Semitism has no place in Delaware or in our country,” Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester said of the fire. (Aetna Fire Company)

The fire was discovered after 11 p.m. at the center, which is just across the street from the heart of the university’s main campus. Members of the Aetna Fire Company began an aggressive attack on the blaze while searching for possible victims trapped inside, but there were no injuries. The fire caused an estimated $75,000 in damage.

Though it is not owned by the school, the Chabad Center functions as a Jewish community center on campus and sponsors an officially registered student organization. On Facebook, the center describes itself as a “welcoming, inspirational, entertaining, non-judgmental, accepting, educational enrichment center for Jews of all ages, backgrounds & affiliations.”

To lose an important structure and symbol of their faith is “really very heartbreaking. We’re here to help them heal in any way that we can,” said Rosi Crosby, chief strategy officer at Jewish Family Services of Delaware. JFS supports Jewish organizations in the state.

Even though there’s been no decision about whether the fire was a hate crime, Crosby said the act of arson alone is terrifying and traumatic.

“JFS is consistently responding to acts of trauma. There’s a lot of acts of trauma in our community, and this is a traumatic event to see the building you love burn down,” Crosby said.

In 2017, the Jewish Community Center outside Wilmington received multiple bomb threats over the course of several months.

“Trauma, whether it’s direct or vicarious, is real. And that’s what JFS is here to help our community do. It’s literally person-by-person, individual-by-individual [to] help them heal and help people deal with all of those stressors, anxiety, stress, depression that comes from these acts of pain,” she said.

Gov. John Carney called the fire “upsetting.” In a post on Twitter Thursday morning, Carney added: “This is a place of worship and community, and this kind of violence is unacceptable. Thinking of and praying with Delaware’s Jewish community.”

Delaware’s lone member of the U.S. House, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, also condemned the attack on Twitter. “Incredibly disturbed to hear about the arson in Newark at the Chabad Center. I’m standing firmly with our Jewish community. Anti-Semitism has no place in Delaware or in our country,” she said.


UD’s dean of students is working with the University Religious Leaders Organization to support those affected by the incident. The URLO provides resources when called upon to assist the campus. Counselors are available to talk to students at the school’s Center for Counseling and Student Development at 302-831-2141 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Fire set to Chabad Center at the University of Delaware
The state fire marshal said the fire was intentionally set, but stopped short of calling it a hate crime. (Aetna Fire Company)

The fire is the second arson in little more than a month in the Newark area. Just seven miles down Route 896 in Glasgow, an arsonist set fire to Reach Church on July 21, causing an estimated $250,000 in damage. The suspect in that incident was caught on camera setting several small fires inside the church sanctuary. He was arrested a few days later on second-degree arson and other charges.

There’s no indication the two incidents are connected.

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If you have experienced or witnessed an incident of bias, hatred or bigotry, you can report it to the Anti-Defamation League.

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