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Secret Tunnel Found in a Synagogue in New York And Antisemitism

A group of Hasidic Jewish men clashing with New York police about a hidden tunnel found in a Brooklyn synagogue is one of the popular events of the week. This incident has gained worldwide media attention and led to false and harmful rumours about Jewish people. It also led to nine arrests on Monday and following that, a whirlwind of controversy.

The tunnel, 60 feet long and 8 feet wide, was unearthed beneath the synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, the heart of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Chabad is one of the largest Jewish religious organizations in the world. This Hasidic Jewish group focuses on Jewish education and outreach, following the teachings of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

The tunnel, an illegal construction, was reportedly dug by “extremist students” who damaged adjoining properties to access a basement-level synagogue. These students are reportedly part of a splinter group within Chabad that believes the late Rabbi Schneerson is the Messiah and still lives. Some speculate that the youths had dug the secret tunnel to fulfil the Rabbi’s wish for an expanded Chabad headquarters. Others say they wanted access to the closed-off holy spaces within the complex.

In a chaotic turn of events on Monday, chaos erupted when the young men resisted a cement truck brought in to seal the tunnel.

Motti Seligson, a Chabad spokesperson, wrote on X: “Some time ago,

a group of extremist students broke through a few walls in adjacent properties to the synagogue at 784-788 Eastern Parkway to provide them unauthorized access.”

Seligson further narrated how efforts to close the tunnel were disrupted by “extremists who broke through the wall to the synagogue, vandalizing the sanctuary, in an effort to preserve their unauthorized access.” A video originally shared on TikTok by user Shita Hakdosha showed several men tearing paneling from a wall in the complex, with a smaller group in what appears to be the secret tunnel behind the wall. Part of the clip shows a noticeably stained mattress being removed either from the tunnel or from the area around its entrance where the paneling had been torn down.

The chaos climaxed with the arrest of nine young men and the synagogue being shut down pending a structural safety review.

One of the arrested Hasidic young men

More recently, three buildings connected to the synagogue were issued vacate orders by the Department of Buildings. Two because they were damaged by the tunnel and one due to fire risks. The firewalls in the basement and on the first floor of the third building had been removed whilst digging the tunnel. The owners were told to fix the buildings and seal the tunnel.

The incident has also sparked misleading and antisemitic conspiracy theories online, with some falsely claiming evidence of human trafficking. This misinformation has drawn concern from organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, emphasizing the need to avoid baseless speculations and antisemitic rhetoric.

The Anti-Defamation League was founded to combat antisemitism. Speaking to Rolling Stone, its director, Jonathan Greenblatt, said: “It’s deeply troubling that anyone would use this incident, which the Chabad movement at large has strongly condemned, to draw inappropriate and false comparisons to Hamas tunnels in Gaza or propagate age-old antisemitic conspiracy theories, such as Jews are involved in human trafficking or organ harvesting”.

As the Chabad community and law enforcement continue to address this complex development, it underscores the ongoing challenges faced by religious and cultural communities in maintaining unity and confronting extremism within their ranks.

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