Rabbis in London have urged members of the Jewish community celebrating the festival of Purim this weekend to adhere to Government guidelines after celebrations at last year festivities led to a major loss of lives for the ultra-Orthodox community in the Stamford Hill area.
Research conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that up to two thirds of London based ultra-Orthodox Jews caught Covid-19 after last years celebrations which took place just as the virus was taking hold of the capital. The study took a test of 1,242 individual blood samples and determined that the infection rate was 64%, one of the highest in the world. The normal ultra-Orthodox Jewish household contains 5-6 people compared to the national average of 2.3, combined with their tendency to live in highly population dense areas it would explain the high infection rates.
The Office of the Rabbinate of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations has ordered notices to be put out in advance of the celebrations at Synagogues and in relevant WhatsApp group chats.
The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis also released a twitter video saying: “A year ago, unknown to us, some of our Purim celebrations provided an environment in which the coronavirus could spread.
“It was so tragic that on the very day when we celebrate our physical survival, there was danger to our lives and, through us, to others.
“This Purim, therefore, let us guarantee that we will celebrate safely.”
The yearly celebration of Purim is to mark the survival of Jews threatened with extermination in the 5th century B.C. The celebrations are usually carnival-like with fancy dress, music, dancing and alcohol. Many people would have gathered on the streets of Hackney to parade and celebrate with their friends and families. There is also a tradition of taking gifts to family and friends.
Hackney Council is working in close proximity with Rabbis to ensure that safety is the number one priority over the coming few days and have released guidelines outlining what will be allowed to happen this year.
The previous guidelines left many rules up to interpretation, stating that celebrations can have “a communal prayer element”. This led to a 150 participant wedding taking place in the Stamford Hill area that had to be broken up by a police raid. The police hope that the raid will discourage any repeat offences and the given guidelines have been made explicitly clear to avoid a repeat of last months wedding disaster.
The guidelines state that participants have not been granted special privileges and the same rules still apply in accordance with general Covid-19 guidelines. There must be no intermixing of households and celebrations should only take place in a groups social bubble. There are no gatherings allowed in public spaces or at outside venues. Public dancing and playing music from loud stereo systems is also prohibited in order to minimise the chance of large crowds forming.
Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, said in a statement: “I want to wish everyone celebrating in Hackney and beyond, a happy Purim. I know celebrations will be a bit different this year, but it is important that we keep each other safe from coronavirus and don’t celebrate in the normal way. I will miss the traditional celebrations in Stamford Hill, but I hope this time next year we will be able to celebrate together again. Until we see an end to the pandemic and all the restrictions are lifted we will still need to remember hands, face, space and keep each other safe.”