Jewish student center at Univ. of Delaware plans to rebuild after 2020 arson attack

Rabbi Chuni Vogel blows the shofar.

Rabbi Chuni Vogel blows the shofar to celebrate plans for a new Chabad Center at the University of Delaware. (Mark Eichmann, WHYY)

A blue tarp still covers part of the roof and plywood boards remain in place over windows and doors at the Chabad Center on the University of Delaware’s campus a year after the building was heavily damaged by arson.

Today, the building is much the same as it was immediately following that attack that happened as some students were returning for the start of the 2020 school year.

Since then, Rabbi Avremel Vogel has used temporary tents behind the center to provide Jewish students with a place to gather.

“One year ago, our world was turned upside down, falling victim to this unprecedented act of hate right here across from the University of Delaware,” he said. “It was an attack on the entire Jewish community of students here at the University of Delaware, which by extension is really an attack on all the students here at the University of Delaware.”

The Chabad Center remains boarded up.
The Chabad Center at the University of Delaware remains boarded up following last year’s arson attack. Leaders at the Jewish student center announced plans to replace the building on Monday. (Mark Eichmann, WHYY)

Since that day, Vogel said he has been pleasantly overwhelmed by the support from the community. In the first two weeks after the attack, a crowdfunding effort raised more than $500,000. Since then, the group has received financial support from the Longwood Foundation and the Welfare Foundation.

“You would think a year later you would kind of get used to it, but the miracles have just been happening time and time and time again. The amount of things that have fallen into place for us to be where we are today, we have not stopped being overwhelmed,” Vogel said. “Hopefully it’ll continue that way.”

On Monday, Vogel unveiled plans for a $3.5 million facility to replace the burned-out structure that is now on the site. About $2 million of the total cost of construction has been raised so far.

The new center will include a student lounge, dining area, library, a worship space, and a commercial kitchen. Vogel and his family will live in an apartment unit upstairs.

“The fire was not the end of the story, but rather it was the beginning of a great new chapter,” said UD President Dennis Assanis. “We turn adversity into opportunity. Thousands of Blue Hens and alumni here and around the world, no matter what their religious beliefs are, stood up and reached out to help rebuild.”

Rabbi Avremel Vogel addresses media.
Rabbi Avremel Vogel says he and his wife have been overwhelmed by the support from the community following last year’s arson attack at the Chabad Center at the University of Delaware. (Mark Eichmann, WHYY)

Vogel’s father, Rabbi Chuni Vogel, blew a shofar to help celebrate what the future will bring with the new facility.

He said the shofar is typically used to mark the start of Rosh Hashanah as a time of both reflection and celebration. In addition to long, straight blasts, the horn is also blown in short sounds to represent the broken pieces in our lives. He said that’s fitting to remember the damage done at the Chabad Center, and look forward to a new center to be built soon.

“The Jewish student community at the UD and the broader community were victims of hate and destruction, a home and a vibrant center that was so filled with life and service became broken,” the older Vogel said. “It is so meaningful and appropriate that today, as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, we share the visions and the plans of a far better and stronger student center.”

The arson case is still open, and no one has been charged.

The Chabad Center remains boarded up.
The Chabad Center at the University of Delaware remains boarded up following last year’s arson attack. Leaders at the Jewish student center announced plans to replace the building on Monday. (Mark Eichmann, WHYY)

Newark Mayor Jerry Clifton said whoever is responsible for starting the fire will pay a price.

“I can assure you that whoever thought that this was a good idea to enact a horrific event like this doesn’t know Newark because Newarkers respond. We don’t respond in kind. We don’t respond with hatred. We respond with a better idea. And that better idea is one of love and inclusivity,” he said. “I think that you’ve seen it. I think you’re going to continue to see it.”

Conceptual drawing of new Chabad Center.
A conceptual drawing of what the new Chabad Center at the University of Delaware will look like. (Mark Eichmann, WHYY)

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