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DOB issues vacate orders over ‘underground tunnel’ after chaos erupts at NYC synagogue

Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — New York City officials said they have issued vacate orders due to an illegally constructed “underground tunnel” connected to a Chabad synagogue complex where chaos erupted this week over the secret passageway.


Engineers with the city’s Department of Buildings have been investigating the site since Tuesday morning, a day after police responded to reports of a damaged wall at the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn.

Police said they responded to 911 calls of a disorderly group outside the headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights on Monday night. Responding officers were informed that a group of individuals “unlawfully entered 770 Eastern Parkway by damaging a wall,” the NYPD said.

When the synagogue moved to repair the wall, the men tried to stop it, according to a Chabad spokesperson.

Video shot by witnesses showed police confronting men standing within a space inside a brick wall. Others could be seen tossing desks while officers handcuffed some of the men in front of a damaged wall.

Police arrested nine men between the ages of 19 and 22 on criminal mischief and reckless endangerment charges. The headquarters was temporarily closed pending a review of the structural integrity of the building.

The NYC Department of Buildings said Wednesday that following an “extensive investigation,” they determined that a tunnel had been “illegally excavated” under a single-story extension located behind the four-story buildings at 784 and 786 Eastern Parkway.

The tunnel is approximately 60 feet long, 8 feet wide, and with a ceiling height of 5 feet and connects four neighboring buildings — including those at 784 and 786 Eastern Parkway, the DOB said.

The passageway was constructed without approval and permits from the DOB and had inadequate rudimentary shoring in place, the agency said. The tunnel was found to be empty except for dirt, tools, and debris from the workers, and wall openings were found in several areas of the adjacent buildings, it said.

Engineers determined the excavation work caused structural stability issues to two single-story extensions — the one located above the tunnel and another connected to it — and partial vacate orders have been issued for both buildings, the DOB said.

The DOB said it has also issued a full vacate order to a two-story building at 302 Kingston Ave., which is connected to the tunnel, due to fire safety concerns after fire-rated walls were removed in the cellar and on the first floor. The other neighboring structures are not impacted, it said.

The agency said it has additionally issued emergency work orders to the owners of the properties to stabilize the buildings above the tunnel, as well as two work without permit violations for the illegal work.

“The safety of our fellow New Yorkers is our highest priority at the Department of Buildings,” DOB spokesperson Andrew Rudansky said in a statement on Wednesday. “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.”

Concrete was poured into the areas of concern “to shore up the damaged walls,” in coordination with city inspectors, on Wednesday, according to the DOB.

A Chabad spokesperson described the basement-level space as a “long, eight-foot wide room” that was dug out by “young agitators” underneath the extension.

“This episode has been deeply painful for us and the entire Jewish community,” the spokesperson, Motti Seligson, said in a statement. “The synagogue carries profound significance to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and the Jewish people worldwide, as the Torah teachings that have emanated from within its holy walls have positively transformed the Jewish people and indeed society at large. We look forward to the sanctity of the synagogue being restored and its light continuing to emanate to the world.”

It wasn’t immediately clear when the passageway was constructed and for what purpose.

Following Monday’s incident, Seligson said in a statement on X that a “group of extremist students” broke through walls in properties adjacent to the synagogue “some time ago” to “provide them unauthorized access.”

“Earlier [Monday], a cement truck was brought in to repair those walls,” Seligson said. “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.”

The Chabad Lubavitch Headquarters said in a statement that it was “pained by the vandalism of a group of young agitators who damaged the synagogue,” located below the headquarters.

“These odious actions will be investigated, and the sanctity of the synagogue will be restored,” the statement continued. “Our thanks to the NYPD for their professionalism and sensitivity.”

 

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