NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the campaign surpassing its goal
A GoFundMe campaign run by University of Delaware students has raised more than its original goal of $250,000 to rebuild the fire-damaged Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newark.
Officials have said the fire, reported about 11 p.m. Tuesday, was intentionally set.
At a news conference Thursday, the state fire marshal said it resembled other nearby arsons. “Absolutely nothing” points to it being a hate crime, said Rabbi Motti Flikshtein, youth and family program director of Chabad Lubavitch of Delaware. Flikshtein, who attended the news conference, said the 4,000 Chabad centers worldwide form a network of Jewish culture.
“We’d like to express our deepest and most sincere appreciation to the so many friends from far and near who are joining together in support of our students,” Rabbi Avremel Vogel, who runs the UD Chabad, and his wife Shulie say in a posting today on the GoFundMe page. “This is the greatest testament that love is stronger than hate and light can overcome darkness.”
“This individual tried to RAZE us to the ground, together we’ll RAISE to even higher heights than ever before!”
“There is no doubt in our mind that the best way forward is to not only rebuild the space that once was, but rather to create a new one that is even better, grander, and larger with even more space to host even more students, thereby bringing even more light to this world than ever before,” the page says, in explaining that its new goal is $500,000 of a $3 million project.”
The campaign was set up Wednesday evening and has drawn more than 5,000 donations. Flikshtein called it “a wave of giving” from donors worldwide that the Delaware community doesn’t know.
Multiple donations were for $18 or multiples of it, because 18 symbolizes life in Jewish culture.
Chabad offered Shabbat meals, classes, discussions and social events. Until the fire, it was always open, its Facebook page says. There are about 2,000 Jewish students at UD, about 12% of undergraduates, according to Kristol Center for Jewish Life.
Because of coronavirus guidelines, Chabad had anticipated having programs under tents, Flikshtein said, and it will continue that, with food brought from the Vogels’ home rather than made at Chabad.
“The little blue house, which we students called home, will be missed, but it is time to give back and rebuild what we have lost,” the GoFundMe page says. It says “all funds will be given to the Vogel Family to rebuild The Chabad House.”
County records describe the house, at 262 S. College Ave., as a 1930 Cape Cod with almost 2,000 square feet. No one was inside when a neighbor discovered the fire, the state fire marshal said.
A criminal arson investigation is underway, and anyone with information is asked to call the state fire marshal at 302-323-5375 or Crime Stoppers at 800-TIP-3333.
The campaign is led by Grace Hollander, Haley Levine, Jessica Ehrlich, Sarah Chalmin, Nikki Matza, Louie Gelb and Alex Beigelman, plus alumnae Gabby Taubenfeld, and Ariana Marks.
“We affirm our solidarity with the Jewish community at this difficult time,” UD President Dennis Assanis and José-Luis Riera, vice president for Student Life, wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the university community. “While not a University of Delaware-owned facility, the Chabad Center serves as a Jewish community center for our campus and sponsors a Registered Student Organization. It is an active part of UD’s religious, faith and spiritual diversity.”