England’s lockdown rules are being broken in ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas, with large weddings taking place every week and schools continuing to run, according to community members and local residents.
Last week, police discovered 150 guests celebrating a wedding at the Yesodey Hatorah girls’ school in Stamford Hill, north London. The school denied knowledge of the event, which was condemned by the chief rabbi and the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations.
That same night, police attended a room on Belz Terrace, a few minutes’ walk from the school, after receiving reports that a large wedding was taking place there. However, officials were satisfied that the event was a communal service, which is allowed, rather than a wedding and no action was taken. According to a community informant, the wedding took place in a basement of the hall that the police did not enter.
The Chief Rabbi and the British Jewish Board of Deputies, whose authority is not recognized by ultra-Orthodox or Haredi Jews, quickly condemned Yesodey Hatorah’s wedding. Most British Jews follow the rules of confinement.
There have been a disproportionate number of deaths among ultra-Orthodox Jews during the pandemic. Contributing factors include large intergenerational households and difficulties in conveying public health messages to communities that rarely interact with the Internet or the media.
“A lot of people are trying to do the right thing, but compliance on the ground remains an ongoing challenge, in large part due to communication barriers,” said Polly Cziok, who links to the community on behalf of Hackney’s advice. He said the pandemic had strengthened the council’s partnerships with the community.
Some Haredi rabbis and leaders have tried to persuade communities to abide by the closure rules and have been dismayed by the violations. But according to a man who worked in the North London haredi wedding industry until last spring, big weddings have been held in at least five salons most weeks. “They start around 5 in the afternoon and last until 3 or 4 in the morning,” he said.
Several contractors had caught Covid after working on such weddings, including one in which the bride and her mother tested positive for the virus before the ceremony, he said.
“Several of my former colleagues have reported these weddings to the police, but they have turned a blind eye. What is happening is morally, ethically and even religiously wrong. “
A freelance photographer who was hired to take pictures at about a dozen haredi weddings at the school and synagogue halls last summer and fall said she had turned down more bookings after an October event in Stamford Hill they attended. 300 guests.
“I was very surprised that no one wore a mask except me, and everyone looked at me like I was crazy,” said Marisa D’Alessandro. “They told me that the weddings would be much smaller and quieter than usual, but the ones I have attended have not been anywhere near the number allowed. There is no respect for the guidelines. “
A Jewish News investigation He has also uncovered accounts from multiple major weddings each week in Stamford Hill, with organizers demanding a £ 10,000 payment up front in case they are fined by the police.
Weddings were banned during the first confinement last spring, but were allowed during the summer with a maximum of 30 guests, then reduced to 15. Under current confinement rules in England, they can only take place in exceptional circumstances and with a maximum of six people. in attendance.
Last weekend, Metropolitan Police attended a synagogue in Barnet, north London, and saw between 80 and 100 people leave the building. The number was “too high to be able to meet social distancing guidelines in the space available at the venue,” the Met said.
After a second visit on the same day, a 48-hour dispersal zone was ordered in the area around the Ohel Moshe synagogue from Saturday afternoon to Monday afternoon.
Many schools in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities have continued to operate during the closure. Under the rules, vulnerable children, including those who do not have or have limited access to computers at home, can attend school. Ultra-Orthodox Jews traditionally avoid using the internet, smartphones, television, and the media.
A Stamford Hill resident whose house overlooks an ultra-Orthodox school said it was “packed with kids, everything remains the same. The rules don’t seem to be being followed. “
A teacher at a haredi school in the Manchester area said: “The schools are operating at 100% capacity. The guidelines are vague and up to the discretion of the directors. They say they are all children of key workers. I feel a huge responsibility towards my class, but I am also concerned about my physical and mental health ”.
Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville, Public Health Director Sandra Husbands, and local police commander Marcus Barnett issued a joint appeal this week urging the Haredi community to avoid large gatherings.
“Attending weddings, parties or other events is a great risk in a pandemic situation, both for you and for the people you live with,” they said in a letter published in the Heimische newsletter, which is sent to all households. haredi in Stamford Hill.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism