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A Queens rabbi ignored the brewing commotion at a historic synagogue to say his afternoon prayers until “extremist students” ripped down the interior walls that led to the discovery of an underground tunnel.

This underground space was reportedly created by a small group of Orthodox Hasidic students who believed they were carrying out a religious calling to expand the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. 

But there was no permit for the excavation, and tensions flared when a cement truck came to fill the space. The crowd of agitators grew larger and more boisterous. The chants became louder.

The NYPD was called to restore order, but the rabble-rousers clashed with responding officers in wild viral videos. Nine students in total were arrested.

WILD CLASHES BETWEEN NYPD, AGITATORS OVER UNDERGROUND SYNAGOGUE TUNNELS CAUGHT ON CAMERA, GO VIRAL

Queens Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer, who was in a side prayer room when the situation escalated, couldn’t ignore the maelstrom anymore and described the flood of cops into the synagogue.

“Again, I had no clue what was going on, but I glanced to the side and saw that there was part of the wall missing, and there seemed to be a cavity under what was ostensibly part of the women’s section,” Rabbi Wertheimer told Fox News Digital. 

“Things were escalating. A few policemen entered, a few more policemen entered, and I saw something was not right over there … I saw some young students sitting in that cavity.”

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Officers pulled the students out of the opening that Wertheimer described, zip-tied their wrists and sat them on benches, while other cops held the perimeter and kept the crowd from bull-rushing toward the middle. 

In total, nine Orthodox Hasidic students – all in their late teens and early 20s – were arrested and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, and three others were issued a summons, an NYPD spokesperson said. 

Jewish students sit behind a breach in the wall of a synagogue that led to a tunnel dug by the students in New York.

The “extremist students,” as Chabad spokesperson Motti Seligson called them, appeared to believe they were carrying out a decades-long vision by the former head of the Chabad movement, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

The idea of expanding the building is a good cause and much needed, according to Wertheimer, who said the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway – more commonly known as “770” – is a beacon for the Orthodox community around the world.

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Zalmy Grossman, a 21-year-old Brooklyn resident, told the Norman Transcript, “That’s what the rabbi wants, that’s what everybody wants.”

He said the tunnel project began late last year as a way to connect the synagogue with “the whole empty space” behind it, the news outlet reported.

Jewish students riot against NYPD officers, who were called to inspect a secret tunnel dug under the synagogue by students in New York.

But “extremists” took matters into their own hands and went too far, according to many rabbis and community leaders, when they began digging a tunnel with “crude instruments and their hands,” the New York Post reported. 

“You’ve seen the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption?’ That’s what these young men did at first. They dug and put the dirt in their pockets,” Eitan Kalmowitz, a member of the Lubavitcher community, told the NYC newspaper.

Then the small group of agitators reportedly hired migrant workers to finish the job, Kalmowitz told the Post, and claimed the migrant workers slept there for “weeks.”

It’s unclear when the illegal excavation started, but the tunnel, or underground space as some community members are calling it, was first reported by CrownHeights.info in late December. 

The outlet posted a video of the tunnel on their Instagram page. 

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Seligson, the Chabad spokesperson, didn’t respond to Fox News Digital’s emailed request to confirm the Post’s reporting, or answers to other questions. 

His latest public statement came around 1 p.m. Wednesday on X, where he said, “This episode has been deeply painful for us and the entire Jewish community.”

“On Monday evening, we alerted the authorities to the destruction and vandalism of the synagogue premises,” Seligson said. “With the assistance of the NYPD, the building was vacated later that evening in order to halt the vandalism and to allow for the building’s safety to be assessed.”

Investigation findings from the NYC Department of Buildings

The NYC Department of Buildings “found that a single linear underground tunnel, approximately 60 feet long, 8 feet wide and with a ceiling height of 5 feet,” during its investigation Tuesday. 

The tunnel was empty except for dirt, tools and debris from workers, according to the building department, which confirmed there were no permits and approvals for the work, which resulted in two violations.

“The tunnel was found to have inadequate rudimentary shoring in place, and wall openings had been created in several areas of the adjacent buildings at the basement levels,” the building department told Fox News Digital in an email statement.

Exterior of World Headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement

The illegal work “undermined the structural stability” of 770, which was temporarily shut down, as well as a neighboring building, where fire-rated walls were removed in the cellar and first floor. 

The building department issued emergency work orders to immediately stabilize the illegal excavation and ordered the owners to seal up the openings behind 784-786 Eastern Parkway.

Andrew Rudansky, spokesperson for the NYC Department of Buildings, said they’ve been onsite since Tuesday and will continue to monitor the situation “and are ready to take additional actions” if needed.

Jewish students riot against NYPD officers, who were called to inspect a secret tunnel dug under the synagogue by students in New York.

Rabbis denounce extremists’ activity

Many rabbis, including Wertheimer, denounced the students’ actions, and said they hope the students get any help they need.

“I’m not excusing their actions,” the Queens rabbi said. “But someone who’s willing to destroy, vandalize and deface a synagogue, their own synagogue at that, I would have to imagine they need a little bit of help, and I hope they’re able to get that help.”

Wertheimer was at a loss for words after seeing the holy walls of the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters being torn down. 

“It’s very sad. Very sad. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain,” he said. “The building, itself, holds tremendous significance, and that’s an understatement.

“The spirituality of the place and the Lubavitch Rebbe (leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty), and his leadership and vision for changing the world for good all emanates from that building … To see the structure literally being defaced and destroyed, is heartbreaking.”



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