Participants in Chabad tunnel mayhem appear in court, cheered by peers

Three men were charged with criminal mischief and obstruction of government proceedings, as a lively group of friends carried signs saying “Expand 770!”

Chabad students near the Brooklyn courthouse. Credit: Lauren Hakimi/Shtetl

Mar 15, 2024 4:15 PM


Several young members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community appeared in court this week for actions surrounding the illegal tunnel excavation at Chabad headquarters in January. The men were accompanied by a group of spirited peers who seemed unfazed by the criminal proceedings.

The January incident, which made news headlines around the world, involved a group of students preventing repairs to illegal excavations at the Chabad main synagogue in Crown Heights and a subsequent confrontation with police who arrived to restore order.

Three students, Yerachmiel Blumenfeld, Menachem Mulakando, and Menachem Koopshik, were charged in January with criminal mischief and obstruction of government administration, to which they pleaded not guilty and were released without bail. Koopshik was released under supervision, but the judge lifted the supervision requirement on Tuesday. The three were ordered to return on May 13, along with several other men who faced lesser charges.

There to support the defendants were a group of their peers, who took pictures, sang the Meshichist anthem known as the “Yechi,” and held up signs that said “Expand 770!” 

Chabad students near the Brooklyn courthouse. Credit: Lauren Hakimi/Shtetl

Speaking to Judge Sherveal Mimes at the Kings County Supreme Court Criminal Term, Michelle Munnueke, an attorney for the DA, said regarding each of the defendants that there was no offer for reduced punishment. Levi Huebner, the attorney defending the men and a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch community, told Shtetl he believed this was too harsh.

“They have no priors, they’ve never done anything,” Huebner said. “They’re prosecuting this like it’s a death penalty case.” 

A Chabad student at the Brooklyn courthouse. Credit: Lauren Hakimi/Shtetl

Huebner speculated that the DA was responding to media attention and political pressure from Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the entity that owns the premises at the Chabad headquarters. Huebner told The Forward that “people who volunteered to help with legal expenses” retained him to represent the men.

Yonatan Hasin, who was at the court to support his friends, said their bonds run deep. “It’s more than classmates,” he told Shtetl. “We are in the same dorm.” He added, “It’s our fourth year together.”

Many of those present were from outside the U.S. and studying at the Chabad yeshiva in Crown Heights, a common practice for Chabad students who completed their previous years of study elsewhere. “Some of the guys who broke the walls and dug the tunnels lost their student visas” and had to return to Israel, Hasin said. Huebner said none of his defendants have been expelled from the school.

Still, the mood was light, and many of those who came to support the defendants gathered outside for a group photo after the proceedings.

Read more in Shtetl:

Chaos in 770 as extremists vandalize shul, mini riot erupts, leading to several arrests

The Tzfatim of 770: a three-decade saga of anarchy and mayhem at Chabad headquarters