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Biden calls fire at Delaware Chabad center ‘deeply disturbing,’ linking it to rising antisemitism

A fire set at the Chabad center at the University of Delaware on Tuesday night has been declared an act of arson.

An unknown person set the blaze around 11 p.m. that night, according to fire officials in Newark, Del. None of the family members who oversee the the center were present, and no one was injured.

Assistant State Fire Marshal Michael Choinchio said that investigators had found “no indication of a hate crime,” according to Delaware Online, but added that the investigation “is very open-ended right now.”

In a tweet Thursday evening former Vice President Joe Biden described the fire as “deeply disturbing,” and called for a “full and swift investigation.”

“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’s tweet said.

It took 45 firefighters about 40 minutes to fully extinguish the blaze, according to the Newark Post. The crew stayed for three hours to fully eliminate hotspots throughout the building.

Fire investigators have estimated the damage at $75,000, while a GoFundMe page for the center said the estimated damage was between $150,00 and $200,000.

Earlier this month, a Chabad center in Portland, Ore., burned — the second time the building burned in five days, though the first fire was ruled electrical. Fire investigators have not made a determination yet about the origins of the second fire.

The Delaware fire came after years of success in the center, established four years ago, said Avremel Vogel, one of its co-directors, along with his wife Shulie. The first year they would have 40 students on a Friday night, Vogel said. By last year, they maxed out at 150.

“Kids on the porch, standing up, hanging out the windows — as the students call it, Chabad-style,” Vogel said.

Students created the GoFundMe on Wednesday evening, which has raised $141,000 of a $250,000 goal as of Thursday afternoon. Vogel said he and his wife have been blown away by how hard the students, many of them hurt and angry, have worked to get word out about the damage to the center.

“Theres a fire burning inside them, they’re right to be upset, but we can channel it to build back, build bigger, build better, and create a lasting home for the Jewish students on campus,” Vogel said.

“Their constant generosity keeps students coming back each week,” the fundraising page says. “Rabbi, Shulie, and their three children have created a family at UD and have devoted their lives to bettering the Jewish community on campus.”

Though the family is physically fine, they are reeling from the “shock and disorientation” of learning that the building burned. They aren’t sure when they’ll resume campus activities, but Vogel said they plan to have High Holiday services in outdoor tents, with donated catering to replace their destroyed kitchen.

Vogel grew up on the University of Delaware campus: His parents were Chabad “emissaries” there before him. After he and Shulie married the opportunity arose to take over the Chabad position at the campus from the family that was living there, and they moved from Brooklyn down to Newark.

“It was meant to be,” he said.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman


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