The three-decade saga that led to the Crown Heights tunnels

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Last week, after underground tunnels were discovered near the Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue in Crown Heights and attempts by synagogue officials to perform repairs were prevented by a group of yeshiva students, a mini-riot broke out after police showed up to restore order. A group of rowdy yeshiva students was seen smashing down a wall at the most cherished site of the Chabad movement.

The incident made headlines and primetime TV news from Reykjavík to Mumbai and beyond. Antisemitic conspiracy theories on the internet went into overdrive, alleging the tunnels were used for everything from child sexual abuse to secret animal sacrifices. Even well-meaning observers wondered: what in God’s name was going on there?

The real story emerged in bits and pieces. The incident involved an unauthorized and haphazard attempt by a group of students to expand the main Chabad synagogue, commonly referred to as “770”, for its address at 770 Eastern Parkway. The tunnels were access points to an area the students had been excavating.

In subsequent statements, synagogue officials referred to the students as “young agitators” and “extremists”. Several well-placed sources within the Crown Heights Chabad community, however, have identified the tunnel-diggers as having a more distinct identity: the “Tzfatim” .

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