Police respond to 770 Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights, NY, on Jan. 9, 2024.
Police respond to 770 Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights, NY, on Jan. 9, 2024.Reuters/Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu

(New York Jewish Week) — Police arrested 12 people at the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s world headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Monday as chaos broke out during a dispute over a tunnel into the building — which, according to a Chabad spokesperson, was opened by Chabad “extremists” seeking unauthorized access to parts of the building.

The fracas broke out after a cement truck was brought in to repair the building’s walls and seal off the tunnel, whose purpose and the size remains unclear. No injuries were reported, according to the NYPD. 

The incident occurred in a busy synagogue adjoining the hasidic movement’s headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, the office of the late Chabad-Lubavitch leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said Chabad-Lubavitch spokesman Motti Seligson. 

The building was previously the home of Schneerson’s father-in-law and predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, and it has become a symbol of the movement and its worldwide network of emissaries.

Footage from the scene on Monday showed chaos in the interior of the synagogue. Video clips that circulated online showed a small group of young men inside a hole in the wall that appeared to lead to a cavernous space, as police kept crowds of others away.

Other videos showed young men tearing wooden panels off walls, arguing with police, being handcuffed and being removed from the building.

The arrested individuals remained in custody and charges were pending, an NYPD spokesperson told the New York Jewish Week. The building has been closed for a structural safety review. 

Seligson wrote that the dispute was caused by a group of extremist students, who broke through walls in properties adjacent to the synagogue in order to gain unauthorized access.

The fracas broke out on Monday after a cement truck was brought in to repair the walls they had damaged and block the tunnel. The students caused the ruckus when they attempted to disrupt the repairs, Seligson said in a statement on X.

Efforts to repair the walls “were disrupted by the extremists who broke through the wall to the synagogue, vandalizing the sanctuary, in an effort to preserve their unauthorized access,” Seligson wrote.

“This is, obviously, deeply distressing to the Lubavitch movement, and the Jewish community worldwide,” he added.

In an official statement from Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky said the community was “pained by the vandalism of a group of young agitators who damaged the synagogue below Chabad Headquarters.”

“These odious actions will be investigated, and the sanctity of the synagogue will be restored,” Krinsky said.