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Lubavitch Chasidim in Brawl over Access to Ailing Rebbe

Tensions are running high at the Lubavitchers’ ongoing vigil for their ailing rebbe, as demonstrated by the arrest this week of three Lubavitch youths on charges of assaulting a Chasid as he tried to enter the rebbe’s hospital room.

Police have charged Brooklyn residents Yanky Prager, 21, Jack Hershkop, 21 and his brother Aaron Hershkop, 17, with third degree assault, claiming the three youths “beat up” 47-year-old Chaim Halberstam at the Beth Israel Medical Center in lower Manhattan.

The brawl took place Sunday evening outside the intensive care unit where Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the 92-year-old Lubavitch leader, breathes with the help of a respirator.

Halberstam, one of several people who regularly takes turns watching over the rebbe, reportedly left the rebbe’s room in order to participate in evening prayers. When he tried to re-enter the room his path was blocked by the alleged attackers.

Halberstam, who runs the World Lubavitch Communications Center, which distributes recordings of the rebbe’s teachings, was brought to the Beth Israel emergency room and given stitches for a wound over his left eye.

INCIDENT CALLED ‘GAME OF POWER’

From his office at Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights on Monday, Halberstam — who has criticized some Lubavitch leaders for not being aggressive enough in the rebbe’s medical care — said the incident was part of a “game of power” between people within the Lubavitch movement.

He claimed to have been approached earlier in the day by the same three young men who warned him that he was “going down this week.”

Halberstam said the attackers were known in Crown Heights as “hoodlums,” who could not have gained access to the heavily guarded seventh floor of the hospital without approval from someone in the Lubavitch leadership.

Prager, one of the three men charged in the attack, said he had come to the seventh floor to pray and was asked by someone in the Lubavitch movement — whom he would only identify as a “higher authority” — to prevent Halberstam from going back into the room.

Prager said that, contrary to the police report, Halberstam wildly attacked the group of young men, forcing them to restrain him in “self-defense.”

He described Halberstam as a “troublemaker” who had “no business going into the rebbe’s room.”

“Some people are afraid of him. I’m not afraid of him,” Prager said. “I’m afraid of God and that’s all.”

Prager and the Hershkop brothers were given summonses to appear in Manhattan Criminal Court on April 25.

Schneerson, who is reportedly unconscious and in very critical condition, has been hospitalized since suffering a massive stroke on March 10. A struggle over his care and the movement’s leadership has shaken Lubavitch since he was first severely debilitated by a stroke two years ago.

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