Movie-worthy details are emerging about the six “fanatical” young Hasidic Jews who dug a 3-foot-high, 20-foot-wide, 50-foot-long tunnel at the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn.
Using their hands and some crude tools, the rogue members began digging in secret, filling their pockets with dirt to avoid the scrutiny of their sect’s leaders and detection in the community, the New York Post reports, citing an anonymous source from within the Orthodox community.
“You’ve seen the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’?” Eitan Kalmowitz, a member of the Lubavitcher community in Crown Heights, told The Post. “That’s what these young men did at first: They dug and put the dirt in their pockets.”
The work was evidently not going fast enough for the determined group, most of whom were in their teens and early 20s.
Their solution? They took up a collection and hired “Mexican” migrants to get it done, Kalmowitz said.
Kalmowitz explained that the migrant workers took up residence in a nearby abandoned building that featured a men’s ritual bath while the work continued.
“The Mexicans lived in the building for three weeks during the work,” said Kalmowitz. “They slept and ate there because it was a secret operation.”
The tunnel work was done “correctly,” Kalmowitz said, noting that the migrants even installed support beams.
“I was surprised by the stealth and secrecy of it all,” an anonymous Chabad member said.”It’s incredible to me that they kept it under wraps. The yeshiva boys are very idealistic, extreme.”
The endeavor, according to The Post, was fueled by what the diggers believed was “a religious obligation to expand the holy state.”
A Chabad rabbi who asked not to be named identified some of the students as being from Safed, the Israeli holy city that is believed to be the birthplace of Jewish mysticism, known as “Kabbalah.” They are, the rabbi said, in the U.S. on visas.
“They are fanatical,” the rabbi said. “They are part of a small extreme group. The concept of Chabad is to be kind to everyone, and we are kind to them, but we never thought for a second they would make such problems. It’s a big mistake to let them into the community. The school will now close the visas to them.”
The students, according to the rabbi, were attempting to fulfill a religious promise to Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a.k.a., “Rebbe.”
Six years before he died in 1988, Rebbe vowed that the sect’s synagogue would be expanded.
The Ukrainian-born Rebbe is seen by some Chabad community members as the messiah. He escaped World War II in Europe, moving to New York in 1941. From there, he launched “a global network comprised of thousands of schools and community centers,” according to The Post.
“Scholar, engineer, and visionary leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe created a blueprint for how to spread a love for Judaism,” Unpacked wrote on its YouTube channel. “With his guidance, emissaries or ‘shluchim’ have built Jewish infrastructure across the globe, ensuring that Jews from all walks of life have the opportunity to take part in Jewish life, no matter where they are or where they’ve come from.”
The account calls him “Judaism’s most impactful rabbi .”
“The extremist students believe that redemption will come to them when they fulfill his command to expand the group’s holiest site,” The Post reports.
“Some have been known to be so fanatical that they vandalized a plaque at Chabad headquarters because it referred to Schneerson ‘of blessed memory,’ a Hebrew honorific for the dead,” according to the outlet. “A portion of the extremists believe that the rebbe is a still-living messiah.”
Retired rabbi and Drew University professor Allan Nadler called the optics of the students’ tunnel look “crazy” to those outside the insular community.
“The image of Israelis coming to Brooklyn to build illegal tunnels looks terrible,” he said. “These Israeli army-aged boys should be in the army demolishing Hamas tunnels. It all looks a little crazy.”