Rebuilding Chabad Center
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson September 01, 2022
UD officials and community members break ground on new Jewish Student Center
The Chabad Jewish Student Center is a home away from home for the University of Delaware’s Jewish students, with the “Little Blue House” on South College Avenue in Newark serving as that home for nearly 20 years.
When Rabbi Avremel Vogel and his family arrived in Newark at the start of the 2016-2017 school year, they began hosting about 40 students every Friday evening for Shabbat dinner in the 1,500-square-foot home. Over the next few years, that number grew to an average of 140 students coming every Friday night, and Vogel’s wife, Shulie, cooked for all of them.
“If you had ever seen the Little Blue House, you know that fitting in 140 or 150 people for a dinner was no easy feat,” Rabbi Vogel said. “But students were invested in the family that we were building here, and they kept bringing more and more friends, even if that meant giving up their seats to stand in the kitchen.”
All the arrows were pointing up, Rabbi Vogel said, until the Jewish community at UD was dealt a devastating blow when a fire destroyed the Chabad Center on Aug. 25, 2020. The Delaware State Fire Marshal's Office determined at the time that the fire was intentionally set. No suspects have been publicly identified by officials.
Two years later, on Sunday, Aug. 28, the Vogel family, UD and government officials, supporters, students, parents and members of the community vowed to not just rebuild, but to rebuild a bigger and more purpose-oriented space for UD’s Jewish students as they broke ground on a new center in the same lot that the Little Blue House once stood.
While not a University of Delaware-owned facility, the Chabad Center serves as a Jewish community center for the campus and sponsors a Registered Student Organization. It is an active part of UD’s religious, faith and spiritual diversity.
“You inspire us every day and motivate us to build on our programming and of course to build this building — to build this home,” Shulie Vogel said. “Each one of you is not just a friend, student or supporter — you are partners in this project.”
UD President Dennis Assanis said that while the fire that destroyed the Chabad House was devastating, it also prompted an outpouring of support from the UD community and from people around the world. In the months following the fire, more than 10,000 people donated to the campaign to rebuild.
“It is a dramatic example of what the true Blue Hen spirit can achieve — no matter what the endeavor, what the challenges — and it reminds us that we depend on each other and that relationships strengthen us, encourage and inspire us to get going even at the very hardest and toughest times,” Assanis said. “Today's groundbreaking event is a testament to the power of relationships. We're here because our strong community pulled together in a time of need. Breaking ground on this new center is a clear and unequivocal response to anyone who thinks they can divide us or diminish our sense of community. Indeed, every hardship only makes us stronger.”
Plans for the new building, budgeted at $4.3 million, include a student lounge, café, library, worship center and 180-person dining room. The 12,000-square-foot space will also have guest suites, study rooms and a commercial kitchen, while the Vogels and their children will live in an apartment-style unit on the second floor. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2023.
Two years ago, Goldie Selig, now a junior at UD, was eager but nervous as she was about to leave home for the first time and head to campus. But after receiving an email from the Vogels, she began to look forward to becoming a part of the Jewish community at UD. Just a few days before move-in, however, she learned about the tragic fire that would change the trajectory of the way that Chabad operated on campus. Over the next two years, the Vogels continued to host Shabbat dinner at their home near campus.
“Today marks the beginning of a new chapter — one with an even bigger and brighter future,” she said. “Future Blue Hens will feel the same sense of home that was provided for me in the past couple of years. I look forward to watching the progress of our new Chabad being built and its continued success and fulfillment of strength in our new community.”