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The ‘tunnel’ controversy at Chabad’s Brooklyn headquarters, explained

(New York Jewish Week) – On Tuesday, a group of Jewish men gathered to pray under a leaky white tent in the drizzling rain outside the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s world headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, draping their wet jackets over portable bookshelves and talking about what had happened there the previous afternoon.

As for the building itself, it was closed off. Outside the entrance to the complex’s main synagogue, a line formed in the rain, with Chabadniks waiting patiently to retrieve personal belongings from a storage room. They chatted with police officers — trying to explain to them what tefillin is — who were standing behind metal barricades and blue and yellow tape, letting the men and boys in one at a time.

The headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway — a symbol of Chabad that is usually bustling with prayer and Jewish study — has been shuttered for nearly two days and counting. On Monday, a small group from the Hasidic movement, acting independently, attempted to break through a synagogue wall — a last-ditch attempt to connect part of the sanctuary to a building next door in order to expand the complex. The incident ended with shouting, scuffles and arrests, as well as concern about the building’s structural integrity.

Leading Chabad officials condemned the tunneling effort as the work of an extremist fringe. But the saga has spread far beyond Brooklyn — drawing global attention to internal Chabad disputes, generating international headlines and turning into fodder for antisemitic conspiracies.

“The Chabad-Lubavitch community is pained by the vandalism of a group of young agitators who damaged the synagogue,” said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, a prominent community leader, in a public statement. “These odious actions will be investigated, and the sanctity of the synagogue will be restored.”

Here’s what you need to know about the chaos in Crown Heights this week and its aftermath.

Police block the entrance to the main synagogue of Chabad headquarters due to safety concerns, Jan. 9, 2024. (Luke Tress)

What exactly happened at Chabad’s headquarters on Monday?

Last month, reports surfaced about unauthorized attempts to “tunnel” into a synagogue housed at the 770 complex from a Chabad-linked office building next door. By Monday, said witnesses to the day’s events and a Chabad spokesperson, the construction project had broken through the basement walls of the office building, and a cement truck was called in to repair the damage.

When the group responsible for the unauthorized construction realized the cement would block their attempt to gain access to the 770 complex, they ripped down wood paneling in the crowded subterranean floor of the synagogue. Videos from the scene showed a chaotic crowd of young men shouting, arguing with police, being handcuffed and being removed from the building. Several had retreated into a dark, concrete cavity that had been exposed behind the wood panels.

Around 3:30 p.m., police were called to the synagogue to deal with what an NYPD spokesperson called “a disorderly group” at the synagogue “who unlawfully entered the premises and damaged a wall.”

The NYPD spokesperson said police arrested 12 people and that there were no injuries. Charges include criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and attempted hate crimes — though the spokesperson did not have further information on the nature of the alleged hate crimes. The suspects were all between 19 and 22 years old.

The city’s Department of Buildings, which is inspecting the damage, told the New York Jewish Week on Tuesday that “forensic engineers remain on site at 770 Eastern Parkway, and their investigation is ongoing.”

Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Jan. 9, 2024. (Luke Tress)

What is 770 Eastern Parkway and why is it important to Chabad?

The construction project that came to light Monday is the latest in a number of controversial battles over Chabad’s headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway. Known to Chabadniks simply as “770,” the building and its address have taken on symbolic significance for the movement and its worldwide network of emissaries.

Replicas of the stately brick three-gabled building can be found across the globe, from Australia to Argentina to a rural Chabad village in Israel. In 2022, a digital version went up in the metaverse. The number “770” has likewise become a calling card of the movement, sometimes literally — it is featured in some Chabad emissaries’ phone numbers.

The building holds meaning for Chabad Hasidim because it served as the office of the late, deeply revered Chabad leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Rebbe. Previously, it was the home of Schneerson’s father-in-law and predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Today, 770 is connected with adjoining buildings on its block and houses a synagogue, spaces for Jewish study, offices and a library.

Since Schneerson’s death in 1994, the movement has been without a leader, and authority over his former office has come under dispute. For more than a decade, two different Chabad organizations have battled in court over who controls 770 — with one side appearing to win only for the legal proceedings to continue.

Police block the entrance to the Chabad headquarter’s main synagogue due to safety concerns, Jan. 9, 2024. (Luke Tress)

Part of the Chabad movement has been pushing to “expand 770.”

Monday’s incident is one of a number of efforts to enlarge the building that is not part of the legal disputes detailed above. An initiative founded about a year ago called Expand 770 aims to drum up support to augment the building, citing a call by Schneerson in 1991 regarding the “need and duty to expand and broaden” the movement’s headquarters.

A rendering of the proposed expansion on the initiative’s website shows the original 770 flanked by two large conference center-style halls.

“Everyone wants to come daven, learn and visit in 770, but 770 is way too small for what it needs to be,” the initiative’s founder, Levi Jacobson, said in a video message posted last February. “The Rebbe urged that each and every Jew should participate physically and monetarily with expanding 770.”

Jacobson did not reply to a request for comment and there was no indication that he was connected to the unauthorized construction.

But on Tuesday, standing outside of 770, members of Chabad continued to argue over whether the building should be enlarged. Based on videos of Monday’s incident, the group involved in the construction effort appear to come from a faction of Chabadniks who believe Schneerson is the messiah, known as “meshichists.” A sign with a slogan declaring Schneerson to be the messiah hung on the wall of the synagogue, and multiple people involved were wearing kippahs bearing the same slogan.

Zalmy Grossman, a student from the United Kingdom who lives in Israel, said he had been in the synagogue during Monday’s incident and supported the effort. Grossman did not identify as a meshichist but was wearing a yellow badge associated with that group.

Worshippers line up to retrieve items from a storage room outside the main synagogue at Chabad headquarters, Jan. 9, 2024. (Luke Tress)

“As the holiest place in the world, we have to expand,” Grossman told the New York Jewish Week, saying that he had not been a part of the group that broke down the walls. “The Rebbe, the words of the rabbi, says they need to expand it. The Rebbe is the one in charge. He is Chabad.”

He added, “He’s the only one we listen to, nobody else. The Rebbe’s Chabad and what the Rebbe says — that’s what we do.”

A passerby, holding a black umbrella against the rain, stopped to vehemently disagree.

“What these people did was a travesty. It does not represent Chabad on any single level whatsoever,” shouted the man, who identified himself as Sholom and declined to give his full name, adding that he was at the sanctuary during the incident. “Attacking cops is not endorsed by Judaism. They took holy, sacred Jewish text books, threw them at cops.”

Indicating Grossman, he said, “This guy doesn’t represent anybody.”

Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, who lives in Crown Heights and works in public relations for the movement, said that the vandalism was carried out by a fringe group and applauded the NYPD’s handling of the incident.

“We appreciate the incredible sensitivity shown by the New York Police Department and their response,” he said. “This is really an example of good police community relations.”

The entrance to a building adjacent to Chabad headquarters that was used for unauthorized excavations, Jan. 9, 2024. A man was seen fleeing from the metal grating to the left of the door during the incident. The grating has since been patched up. (Luke Tress)

The fracas has sparked a wave of antisemitic conspiracies online.

While Chabad representatives have stressed that the construction was the work of a renegade fringe of the movement, the fracas at 770, and false rumors of a “tunnel” network underneath the synagogue, have fed into a ream of jokes — as well as antisemitic conspiracy theories online.

The false claims include baseless allegations that the tunnels were used for trafficking children, echoing centuries-old antisemitic blood libels. In one widely circulated video, a Jewish man seen emerging from a sidewalk grate is said to be part of a secret tunnel network. On Tuesday, the grate had been resealed, and a look inside revealed a well-lit basement filled with stacks of blue plastic crates and wooden planks.

More broadly, the closure of the synagogue and the resulting antisemitism have caused anguish in the Chabad community.

“This is, obviously, deeply distressing to the Lubavitch movement, and the Jewish community worldwide,” said Motti Seligson, a Chabad spokesperson, wrote in a post on X.

“The police department and the city recognizes that this is a fringe group of people that don’t represent the vast majority of the community,” Behrman said. “We’re all pained that we have to deal with this.”


The post The ‘tunnel’ controversy at Chabad’s Brooklyn headquarters, explained appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis

Drones are seen at a site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on April 20, 2023. Photo: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsA senior Israeli security official spoke to i24NEWS on Saturday on condition of the retaliatory strike carried out by the Israel Air Force against the Houthi jihadists in Yemen.

“This is an important operation which signals that there’s room for further escalation, and sends a very strong message to the entire Shiite axis.”

“We understood there is a high probability of counter attacks, but if we do not respond, the meaning is even worse. Israel has updated the US prior to the operation.”

The strike on Hodeida came after long-range Iranian-made drone hit a building in central Tel Aviv, killing one man and wounded several others.

The post Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida

Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addresses followers via a video link at the al-Shaab Mosque, formerly al-Saleh Mosque, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

i24 NewsThe Israeli military on Saturday confirmed striking a port in Yemen controlled by the Houthi jihadists, a day after the Iranian proxy group perpetrated a deadly drone attack on Tel Aviv.

“A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck military targets of the Houthi terrorist regime in the area of the Al Hudaydah Port in Yemen in response to the hundreds of attacks carried out against the State of Israel in recent months.”

After Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv, reports and footage out of Yemen of air strikes hitting Hodeida

— Video used in accordance with clause 27A of Israeli copyright law pic.twitter.com/d2uE16ZzQ1

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, issued a statement saying “The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear. The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”

“The blood of Israeli citizens has a price,” Gallant added. “This has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in other places – if they will dare to attack us, the result will be identical.”

Gallant: ‘The fire currently burning in Hodeida is seen across the region and the significance is clear… The blood of Israeli citizens has a price, as has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen and in other places – if they dare attack us, the result will be identical.’ pic.twitter.com/DmHjwfHtPV

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

The post IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

The post One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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