Police called after hundreds gather at Jewish festival in London

‘That particular event did go wrong and I’m afraid it is disgraceful; it really feels wrong to me,’ says traditional orthodox Jew who witnessed incident

Chiara Giordano
Wednesday 13 May 2020 18:07 BST
Police called after hundreds gather at Jewish festival in London

Police were called after hundreds of orthodox Jews ignored social distancing restrictions to gather for a religious festival celebration in London.

Pictures and videos shared online show members of the Hasidic Jewish community gathering in large crowds around Stamford Hill, in Hackney, despite strict rules to stay two metres apart and not mix in groups outside of households.

Residents took to Twitter to complain about loud music lasting into the night and bonfires being lit as hundreds of people reportedly poured into streets and housing estates around the area to mark the end of Lag B’Omer on Tuesday.

One local policing team shared images of a large bonfire being built next to cars and garages on the social media site, while another complained about being called out to two incidents of “many people” using bouncy castles in communal spaces.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman told The Independent officers were called to the area and “engaged with those present to remind them of their responsibilities under the current regulations”.

Under new government rules, which came into effect on Wednesday, people are allowed to meet one person outside of their household if they meet outdoors and stay two metres apart, but large gatherings are still banned.

Stephen Brown, who lives in the area and is from a traditional orthodox Jewish background, said he felt the celebrations went too far.

“That particular event did go wrong and I’m afraid it is disgraceful; it really feels wrong to me,” he told The Independent.

He added: “There were a good 40 odd people in the middle of the street and in gardens and two or three of the gardens were making bonfires.

“It seems to me over the past 30 years, with the exponential increase of Hasidic communities in Stamford Hill, they’ve taken on with a passion and a vengeance the observance of festivals, the actual acting out of festivals.

“There will be moments like that, when it got really quite scary. There was a bonfire in a bin about five doors down from us and the neighbours next door to that family were terrified.

“At this point last night it was a real flash point, literally, with the fires, and I felt very sorry for the police because they don’t really have the tools to explain they respect their way of worshipping but there are bigger things going on at the moment that affect us all.”

Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said she witnessed dancing, picnics in the street and loud noise blaring from a PA system near her home in Stamford Hill.

She said: “I was inside my (double glazed shut windowed) flat and could hear all kinds of racket.

“Some of my block mates and I popped outside to see what the commotion was all about and found the scene of several (gentile) neighbours out on the estate and a gathering of approx 30 Orthodox Jewish people around one residential home in a terrace which had a PA system blaring outside and a fire in an oil barrel (so it seemed), and a complete absence of any social distancing.

“Black smoke was billowing across the estate, in through people’s open windows, across gardens etc, and many neighbours were incredibly annoyed.”

Another woman tweeted on Tuesday: “Why oh why was this allowed to happen late into last night, and all of today? This area has been so severely affected by the virus, gatherings like this are so dangerous, for the Orthodox community and their neighbours too.”

Shortly before 10pm, one resident said there were “three police cars, 10 officers and a fire engine” in their street and “a party taking place next to me with a fire in the back garden,” adding: “So social distancing is over is it?”

Another Twitter user, who went out for a walk on Monday night, wrote: “It is absolutely going off in Stamford Hill right now. Tried to go for an evening stroll and was struggling to dodge the crowds.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “On the evening of Tuesday 12 May police were called to reports of large numbers of the Hasidic Jewish community gathered in areas of Stamford Hill, N16.

“Officers attended and engaged with those present to remind them of their responsibilities under the current regulations.

“Local police will continue to engage with representatives from the community to encourage them to observe the guidance and legislation while it remains in place.”

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