Coronavirus: Taskforce working with Stamford Hill Charedi community on social distancing

The Orthodox Jewish voluntary neighbourhood watch group Shomrim has been working with police to enco

The Orthodox Jewish voluntary neighbourhood watch group Shomrim has been working with police to encourage the Stamford Hill community to stay at home to stop the spread of coronavirus. Picture: Shomrim Stamford Hill - Credit: Shomrim Stamford Hill

A taskforce has been set up to work with Stamford Hill’s Charedi community after complaints of social distancing breaches at daily outdoor prayer meetings.

Though most people are following guidance, police have been called repeatedly to the area, which is home to the largest Charedi community in Europe with more than 30,000 people.

Many members of the community have limited or no access to online information and the council has been working with police and community groups to make sure the message gets across.

Last month the Gazette reported volunteers from the area’s neighbourhood watch group Shomrim had been patrolling with loud speakers informing people of the need to social distance.

The group has also leafleted and sent out written information to households, though chair rabbi Herschel Gluck has made clear it is only a small minority of people not adhering to the rules, as reflected across society.

Shomrim member Chaim Hochhauser said last month hundreds of people in the community had contracted Covid-19 and five had died. Since then leading rabbi and former Hackney Labour councillor Avraham Pinter has also died after testing positive for coronavirus.

Jewish law states it is necessary to say prayers in a group of at least 10 men, which is called a minyan, but Mr Hochhauser said the laws have since been changed to allow people to pray alone.

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Nasreen Galiara’s home backs onto a block of flats in Stamford Hill where outdoor prayer meetings with groups of men and children are still taking place up to three times a day. She says social distancing is not being adhered to.

She said: “They last up to two hours. I suffer with severe asthma, and under government guidelines I am considered extremely vulnerable. From a mental health perspective, I am struggling immensely.

“I am uncomfortable and distressed with the huge congregations taking place everyday on our doorstep.”

Nasreen says she has called 101 every day since the lockdown, but the prayers are still taking place.

Rabbi Gluck told the Gazette: “I don’t think it would be possible to do more than we have. We have been very active in informing people about the rules and regulations. The synagogues are shut, the schools and institutions are shut.

“Like the general public in parks, most people play according to the rules and some seem to be unaware. But the vast majority of people in Stamford Hill are abiding meticulously by the rules.”

Hackney Council says its stance is to engage and inform, which it has been doing with Shomrim, police, and health services. Enforcement action is for the Met to decide.

Community safety chief Cllr Caroline Selman said: “We understand this will be a particularly difficult time for our faith communities, who have been unable to join each other for prayers or spend important holidays such as Passover with friends and family. Despite these challenges, the community has shown incredible resilience and the majority are adhering strictly to government guidelines.

“The advice on social distancing has been very clear. We have established a working group led by senior officers to co-ordinate support and communications with the Charedi community, many of whom have limited or no access to online information. We have been working hard to ensure faith communities are aware of the critical government guidelines, including delivering leaflets with clear social distancing messaging, and using community newsletters to further get those messages across.”