Hackney’s Jewish community is as diverse as befits the borough, with residents whose origins lie in North Africa, the Middle East and all over Europe. The most easily identifiable group though are the Haredi people, originally from eastern Europe; married men wear huge round shtreimel hats and sweeping black coats on Shabbat (the Sabbath), and married women conceal their hair, often with wigs.
Stamford Hill has one of the largest Haredi Jewish populations – around 20,000 people – outside Israel and New York. There was a small community here at the end of the nineteenth century, which grew dramatically with the arrival of wartime refugees and Holocaust survivors. Local Rabbi Solomon Schonfield personally helped hundreds of children escape the Nazis, housing many in his home in Stamford Hill. He also helped newcomers find an education and work.
Haredi people are strictly Orthodox, closely following their rabbi and almost always marrying within the community. The sexes are educated separately in private faith schools, with learning centring around study of the Talmud.
The community has a reputation for being closed to outsiders; get an insight into one of its great traditions by visiting Stamford Hill during Purim, when kids ditch sombre clothes for eye-popping fancy dress and families fill the streets.