Chabad

The tunnel mayhem at 770 was bizarre. Some of the reactions were even more so

From the antisemitic to the earnest to the comedic, it was a field day for all — including, apparently, those who got arrested

Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights. Credit: Mo Gelber/Shtetl

Jan 10, 2024 7:15 PM

Updated: 

News from Crown Heights was trending on social media this week as users reacted to the mayhem that broke out on Monday over the secret tunnels dug underneath 770 Eastern Parkway, the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Videos circulating on social media showed Chabad men inside the historic synagogue vandalizing the sanctuary and chaotic scenes unfolding as the NYPD attempted to restore order.

Some on social media seemed unable to resist speculation about Jews doing shady things in tunnels, and the hashtag #TunnelJews caught on. Some focused particularly on a stained mattress and a baby’s high-chair that was seen in many of the videos, suggesting it as incontrovertible “evidence” that the tunnels were used for child sexual abuse.

Others expressed dismay at the damage done to a synagogue held dear by many, scolded the bigots, and called for Jewish unity. Still others saw opportunities for comic relief.

Here is our roundup of them all.

The dog whistlers, the kooks, and the alarm bells

“Who’s ready for the giant coverup when people realize the jewish tunnels connect to a sex dungeon?” wrote one user on X, formerly Twitter. The user has over 765,000 followers and the post garnered over 32,000 likes.

“It’s now almost certain the tunnels found at the Chabad synagogue in Brooklyn were designed for child sex tracking,” another user wrote. The post got over 30,000 reposts.

Many thousands posted and reposted images of Chabad rabbis meeting with American presidents — Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Donald J. Trump — as well as a photo of Rabbi Berel Lazar, the Chabad rabbi of Moscow, appearing chummy with Vladimir Putin. As if to say, whichever side you’re on in world affairs, you know who’s really in charge.

Others tried to keep a semblance of rationality, even while managing a few dog whistles. 

Russell Brand, the controversial actor and podcast host, played a clip of the chaotic scenes inside 770, and said, “Those worshippers are very passionate about that tunnel. I want to know why.” Something nefarious must be going on, he seemed to suggest. “I’d love to know your theories,” he told his audience.

Some got creative — avoiding the antisemitic tropes but unable to resist the outlandish theorizing.

X user Alaric The Barbarian suggested the tunnel builders were preparing for the coming of the Messiah — as that’s what Chabad is famously about — which would precipitate the building of the Third Temple, and animal sacrifices would resume as in Biblical times. “A secret, ‘unauthorized expansion’ to complete these sacrifices would make complete sense,” he wrote.

Saner voices also got heard. Journalist Yashar Ali, who has over 700,000 followers, said the story should’ve remained a local news story. It was unfortunate, he wrote, that “it's turned into a global antisemitic flood of some of the most dangerous conspiracy theories about Jews dating back to the Middle Ages.”

Writer Katherine Brodsky, a prolific poster on X with a substantial following, tried to get rational minds to prevail, explaining, correctly, that the core issue here was a legal dispute “over who is the rightful owner of the 770-788 Eastern Parkway complex. The occam's razor explanation for the tunnels.”

X user Mike Gee also wrote a thorough and comprehensive explanation of the whole matter. (Although his post also featured a photo taken by Shtetl. We had mixed feelings about that.)

New York City Councilmember Crystal Hudson, who represents part of Crown Heights, posted a condemnation of “the propagation of vile antisemitic rhetoric and tropes.”

The institutional

What was arguably late in coming — the tunnels were discovered weeks ago, after all — finally came: an official statement from the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters, signed by its chairman Rabbi Yehuda “Yudel” Krinsky.

“The Chabad-Lubavitch community,” the statement read, “is pained by the vandalism of a group of young agitators who damaged the synagogue.” The statement added, “These odious actions will be investigated, and the sanctity of the synagogue will be restored. Our thanks to the NYPD for their professionalism and sensitivity.”

Motti Seligson, director of media at Chabad, also tried to get the real story out for the record. “Extremist students,” he wrote, broke through walls in order to gain unauthorized access to adjacent properties. When a cement truck was brought in for repairs, the group disrupted the work by “vandalizing the sanctuary, in an effort to preserve their unauthorized access.” Those responsible were arrested, he added.

Meanwhile, HQSatmar, an account associated with one faction of the Satmar Hasidim, used the opportunity to highlight their own troubles with extremists, writing, “The #Satmar community suffers from Neturei Karta extremists actions, just as @Chabad now faces challenges with messianic student extremists.”

The reflective

“770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights has been a place of awesome significance for the Jewish people over the past 80 years,” wrote Hasidic influencer Shloime Zionce.

Dovid Bashevkin, host of the popular “18Forty” podcast, expressed a similar sentiment. “This is beyond deeply painful. We’re watching the home of the Rebbe being desecrated,” he wrote.

Mendy Pellin, known more for his comedy, got serious. He noted that he lived in the neighborhood and, like many area residents, knew exactly what was happening. “The ‘770 tunnels’ are nothing more than a bad local joke. Not a deep conspiracy.” What it was, he explained, was “a management dispute” that got out of hand when some people wanted to expand the synagogue and others didn't.

The just plain silly

Some just had a laugh.

X user Brandon Hannibal Donkey described a “partial list of items recovered from the tunnel,” which included “25 crates, counterfeit dreidles,” “Aaron’s recipe for smoked brisket,” and “Commandments, 11-15.”

The Orthodox comedian MODI, posted a video of himself dressed as a Satmar Hasid — Chabad’s historical nemesis — anchoring for the “Yoely News Network” complete with Satmar-style English. Regarding “the broken news,” he said, he was going to “explain you out” the situation — though the explanation ended up, of course, rather muddled.

Meanwhile, those arrested during the incident were in a festive mood after their release on Wednesday. According to COLlive, they danced in the streets of Crown Heights singing the Chabad classic song of triumph: “Didan Natzach!”

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.