Brooklyn synagogue slapped with NYC vacate order after discovery of radical students’ secret tunnel sparks safety concerns

The city has issued both a partial vacate order and an emergency work order for a Brooklyn synagogue complex after the discovery of a secret tunnel dug by extremist students from an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic group.

An investigation revealed that the 5-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide tunnel ran for about 60 feet beneath a single-story extension directly behind two four-story buildings at 784 and 786 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, the Department of Buildings said in a statement.

That extension connected four different buildings: The two on Eastern Parkway, a structure at 302 Kingston Ave. and another extension near Union Street, the statement said.

Six renegade members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement allegedly dug the secret tunnel with crude instruments and their bare hands, without permits or approval.

The city found the illegally excavated passageway undermined the extension above it and the single story-story extension behind the Kingston Avenue building.

A man gazes at the vacate order at the synagogue complex on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights. Gregory P. Mango
The city issued a vacate order because of structural damage caused by an illegal tunnel dug by radical students wishing to expand the synagogue’s sanctuary. AP

The findings led the city to issue partial vacate orders for both buildings due to structural stability concerns.

“We have been on site in Crown Heights since yesterday morning to investigate the illegal excavation work found underneath the buildings, and its impacts on the neighboring structures,” the statement said.

“As a result of this extensive investigation, we have issued emergency work orders to stabilize the buildings above the tunnel, vacate orders in parts of the buildings to ensure occupant safety, and enforcement actions against the property owners for the illegal work,” it continued.

“We will continue to monitor the progress of this emergency stabilization work, and if necessary, we are ready to take additional actions that may be required in the interest of public safety.”

The tunnel undermined the structural integrity of several buildings, investigators found.

City officials also issued a full vacate order for the two-story building on Kingston Avenue because of fire safety concerns — investigators found fire-rated walls had been torn down in both the cellar and on the first floor.

The young renegades from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement apparently dug the tunnel under the synagogue because higher-ups were dragging their feet on expanding its sanctuary, sources said.

The buildings department’s work orders, issued to the property owners, demanded they hire a professional engineer to shore up the tunnel, seal the openings and, if needed, backfill it completely.

Extremist yeshiva students initially used their hands to dig a tunnel as part of their religious mission to expand Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters, the holiest site for the sect.
The Chabad-Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights, where a group of extremist students dug the controversial tunnel. Gregory P. Mango

So far, the owners have complied, and are “making preparations to start the emergency work and put together the required building reports,” the statement said.

The city has also issued two violations to the building owners for the illegal work.

The department said it would monitor the location and follow up accordingly.

The controversy over the clandestine construction project exploded earlier this week when members of the community discovered the tunnel and brought in cement workers to fill it in.

On Monday, a wild riot broke out when the NYPD was called because some students tried to stop the laborers from entering the tunnel, which was supposedly meant to expand the site

Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson — the Rebbe — vowed to expand the synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights in 1988, six years before his death. Alamy Stock Photo

Cops arrested nine men, ages 19 to 21, for their actions that day.

Dov Bear Shenhav, 20; Shmuel Malka, 19; Blumenfeld Yerachmiel, 20; and Henachem Mulakando, 19 were each charged with obstruction after they were finally dragged out of their hidden home.

Mulakando and Yerachmiel were also charged with criminal mischief for allegedly destroying the synagogue wall right in front of the cops.

A fifth student, Levi Tyz Lahav, 20, was charged with obstruction for interfering with cops’ efforts to arrest the others, according to the complaint.

Images of the late Rebbe are plastered throughout the Crown Heights community, where Chabad has its world headquarters. Alamy Stock Photo

All five pleaded not guilty at their arraignments in Brooklyn Criminal Court Tuesday night and were released without bail.

After the ordeal, leaders will no longer sponsor the education visas that allowed the foreign students to attend yeshiva in Brooklyn, said a Chabad rabbi who asked not to be named.

“They are fanatical,” said the Chabad rabbi. “They are part of a small extreme group.

“The concept of Chabad is to be kind to everyone, and we are kind to them, but we never thought for a second they would make such problems,” he added. “It’s a big mistake to let them into the community. The school will now close the visas to them.”


Written by SaleemBaloch

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