Melee, Arrests at Chabad Lubavitch HQ in Crown Heights as Workers Try to Fill in Secret Tunnel

By Kirstyn Brendlen

A number of people were arrested in Crown Heights on Monday night after a group of men tried to stop construction workers from filling in a secretly dug tunnel at Chabad Lubavitch headquarters.

According to the NYPD, cops were called to 770 Eastern Parkway after a “disorderly group” illegally entered the building by breaking down a wall. Videos posted on social media show police struggling with a large group of Hasidic Jewish men inside the synagogue beneath Chabad HQ, with the tunnel — apparently carved into stone and dirt – visible through torn-down panels along the wall of the structure. Some men appeared to have climbed into the tunnel in an effort to prevent it from being filled.

Police did not confirm how many people were arrested at the synagogue, though published reports state that nine men were cuffed. The charges were still pending as of Tuesday afternoon, a police spokesperson told Brooklyn Paper.

According to Chabad Lubavitch spokesperson Motti Seligson, a group of “extremist students” had previously broken through walls at properties adjacent to the headquarters in order to access the synagogue without authorization. On January 8, crews arrived to repair the walls — but were stopped when a rowdy group broke through the wall of the synagogue “in an effort to preserve their unauthorized access.”

men behind a police line

Several men appeared to enter the tunnel in an effort to prevent crews from filling it. Photo by Bruce Schaff via AP

On X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, another Chabad representative, Yaacov Behrman, shared in an unofficial statement that he believed “rogue individuals” had been working to excavate an illegal cellar beside the synagogue, and were leaving debris in a nearby vacant property.

“To avoid detection, they dug a small passage from the illegal cellar into the neighboring property to dispose of the debris unnoticed,” Behrman said. “Attempts by these rogue individuals to prevent workers from sealing the area led to the involvement of the NYPD, who acted professionally, responsibly, and with great sensitivity.”

The building was closed Tuesday for a structural inspection. A complaint filed with the Department of Buildings on Tuesday, apparently by a neighbor, stated that the tunnel extended beneath their property and was “destroying” their foundation.

people looking into the tunnel site

Chabad Lubavitch HQ said it was “pained” by the vandalism. Photo by Bruce Schaff via AP

Construction of the tunnel — and the events that unfolded Monday — may have been connected to the years-long feud between Chabad Lubavitch and the Chabad Messianism movement, according to The Forward and Haredi news site Collive. While members of the Messianism movement – which is disavowed by Chabad Lubavitch — hold the title to the property at 784-788 Eastern Parkway, where the synagogue is located, they do not control the synagogue itself, which is located underground. As well, some of the members may believe that by enlarging the building, they are hastening the arrival of the Messiah, according to the Forward.

“Lubavitch officials have attempted to gain proper control of the premises through the New York State court system; unfortunately, despite consistently prevailing in court, the process has dragged on for years,” Seligson said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how long the building would remain shuttered. In a statement, Chabad Lubavitch HQ said it was “pained” by the vandalism at 770 Eastern Parkway, and assured that “the sanctity of the synagogue will be restored.”

view across eastern parkway of the brick buildings that make up the complex

The headquarters in 2020. Photo by Susan De Vries

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.

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