Condemning responses to arson at University of Delaware Chabad

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By Mitzpeh staff
@Mitzpeh

Photo courtesy of Aetna Fire Company (https://whyy.org/articles/jewish-center-intentionally-set-on-fire-at-university-of-delaware-investigator-says/)

A few weeks ago, we read the terrible news that fire had been set, intentionally, to the Chabad Center at the University of Delaware. The building, known affectionately as the “little blue house” by students, was completely destroyed and approximately $200,000 in damages were caused. Thankfully, nobody was inside at the time and no lives were lost. We have all read about acts of violence occurring in the news recently, but this hit especially close to home for us at Mitzpeh — Chabad is a staple of Jewish life here at UMD, just like at UDelaware and many other campuses. 

Anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League and many others. The arson at UDelaware’s Chabad seems to be one of these instances. Even presidential nominee Joe Biden seems to think it is a cause for concern, calling for a “full and swift investigation” and urging us to “speak out and give hate no safe harbor.” Although it has so far been ruled only an act of arson (as if that makes it better) and whether it was a hate crime has not yet been determined, we worry about what the fire could mean for other Jewish institutions across the country. We are sad for the UDelaware community, urge everyone who can to support their rebuilding efforts and we are also frightened about the security of our own campus and Jewish community. 

University of Delaware is not alone, but rather fits a larger pattern of growing anti-Semitism on college campuses. Universities across the country need to adopt two separate lines of effort to address the increased threat. Chief among them, it is critical that universities adopt present, clearly visible security protections. We are looking for additional police patrols, security outside Chabad, Jewish student unions and other worship locations. These practices will serve as a visible deterrent to those who hold malicious intent to the Jewish people, and hopefully, persuade them to second-guess their intentions. Additionally, it would be prudent for the university to adopt covert protection to target those not easily discouraged from committing violent acts. Creating anonymous tip lines, enhancing institutional resiliency, and educating college students on lessons of empathy, cultural understanding and outreach would go far to mitigate misunderstandings that could become motives for anti-Semitism monsters. 

Going beyond only the university’s responsibility, the Jewish people themselves need to pick up the mantle to promote our community’s protection. In such an unprecedented time, with the entire spectrum of the American Jewish community under threat of anti-Semitism, it is more critical that Jews unite despite, or maybe because of, our differences. This is especially true for members of the progressive Jewish community whose social media comments sections ran rampant with disparaging comments about Israeli policy in the West Bank when posting stories about the University of Delaware fire. This tired, anti-Semitic trope of Jews being blamed unfairly, and often unethically, for the behavior of a foreign government thousands of miles away must end. We urge the University of Maryland, and universities and institutions across the country, to start ensuring greater protections of the Jewish people. This must happen now.

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