Nine men were arrested after a chaotic scene at a historic synagogue that saw a group of students clash with police over a secret tunnel leading into the structure from a nearby building.
The men who were arrested were protesting the tunnel being filled with concrete, the Associated Press reported. The protest turned violent when police tried to make arrests.
The group “broke through a few walls” in buildings adjacent to the Chabad-Lubvitch movement’s headquarters in New York City, spokesperson Rabbi Motti Seligson said in an email.
While Seligson did not respond to questions from USA TODAY regarding the origins of the tunnel, he told the Associated Press the passageway is believed to have started in the basement of an empty apartment building behind the headquarters, snaking under a series of offices and lecture halls before eventually connecting to the synagogue.
Videos posted on X, formerly Twitter, appeared to show congregants clashing with the NYPD near a sheet-covered wall as police pulled men out of the hole.
The NYPD said officers responded to a Monday afternoon call for disorderly conduct and nine men were charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, among other charges, while three men were issued court summons on disorderly conduct.
Three of the men charged face a hate crime enhancement, but the department declined to comment further.
“Earlier today, a cement truck was brought in to repair those walls,” Seligson said in his email. “Those efforts were disrupted by the extremists who broke through the wall to the synagogue, vandalizing the sanctuary, in an effort to preserve their unauthorized access.”
Baruch Dahan told the Associated Press people started pushing and confusion ensued when police took the first person out with zip ties. He filmed congregants fighting.
Seligson said the building is closed for a structural safety review. Engineers were still at the site investigating as of Wednesday, New York Department of Buildings spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said.
The building housing the synagogue was once home to the organization’s leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, according to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s website. Schneerson became the organization’s leader in 1950 after his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, died, and remained a leader until his death in 1994.
Supporters of the passage told the Associated Press they were executing Schneerson’s plan to expand the site. Those supporters said the basement has been overcrowded and they sought to annex more space, and some thought plans were taking too long.
Seligson added Chabad officials have tried to gain control the property around the synagogue, including the building where the tunnel led, through the New York State court system but “the process has dragged on for years.”
“This is, obviously, deeply distressing to the Lubavitch movement, and the Jewish community worldwide,” Seligson wrote. (USAToday)