The Haredi Jews of Stamford Hill are normally a sober bunch. Once a year however on the festival of Purim they take to the streets in fancy dress, crank up the sound systems and party in carnival style. Purim commemorates the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination from a massacre by Haman due to the courage of a young Jewish woman called Esther.
Adults of legal age are actively encouraged to get intoxicated, specifically to the point that they can’t tell the difference between the words “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordecai”. Purim is celebrated not only with drinking, feasting and dancing but the offering of gifts and collection of money for charity. Not a policeman in sight.
The Haredi – strictly-Orthodox Jews (Haredi meaning ‘fearful’) who trace their ancestry to 18th-century Eastern Europe – are one of the most close-knit, insular and private communities in Britain. More than 20,000 live in Stamford Hill, in north-east London. Yiddish is the main language. Contact with the secular society is generally avoided, television and secular newspapers are banned and religious study is a major part of their lives. The mingling of sexes is strictly regulated and it is not unusual for families to have up to 10 children who all attend single sex Jewish schools (all but one is private). The women dress in dark coats, long skirts and once married wigs are obligatory. As often seen on the sabbath the men dress in frock coats, long silk gowns (bekishes), flamboyant fur hat (shtreimel), white stockings and slip on shoes.
Further images can be seen in the following slideshow.
All images copyright Fiona Campbell. Images may not be used without permission.