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Viral stories dig into the bizarre tale of a tunnel found inside a Brooklyn synagogue

Hasidic Jewish students observe as law enforcement establishes a perimeter around a breached wall in the synagogue that led to a tunnel dug by students, Jan. 8, 2024, in New York. A group of Hasidic Jewish worshippers were arrested amid a dispute over a secret tunnel built beneath a historic Brooklyn synagogue, setting off a brawl between police and those who tried to defend the makeshift passageway. BRUCE SCHAFF VIA AP

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JAKE OFFENHARTZ, MELISSA GOLDIN AND PETER SMITH

Late last Monday evening, videos began circulating online of young Hasidic men emerging from a tunnel inside a historic Brooklyn synagogue and brawling with police. Jake Offenhartz, a New York reporter with experience covering Brooklyn’s Hasidic community, quickly pulled together a story on what little police and the synagogue’s leaders would say, but big questions still remained: Why was the tunnel built? And how did the scene turn violent?

Jake jumped on a subway to Crown Heights to speak with witnesses, community members, religious leaders and police at the scene, and to help secure photos and videos. It was here that he was able to unravel the unusual backstory, tracing the tunnel’s origins back to a schism within the Chabad-Lubavitch community.

The following day, News Verification reporter Melissa Goldin began looking into the huge volume of misinformation and antisemitic conspiracy theories that had emerged alongside the clips, pulling together a Fact Focus article debunking some of these claims and using her expertise in online conspiracies to add much-needed context.

On day three, as interest in the story continued, Peter Smith on the Religion desk penned an authoritative explainer on Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the revered rabbi who previously led Chabad-Lubavitch, and whose wishes the tunnel-diggers believed they were carrying out.

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