The shimmering water of the small pool reflects off the pristine white walls and tiled floor. Separate doors lead off to multiple bathrooms. Although this may sound like a trendy spa, its actually one of Stamford Hill’s ladies’ mikvahs (ritual pool).
“Charedi men immerse in their mikvahs before Shabbat and festivals, but the women will do so the day before Yom Kippur to be ritually pure for the holiest day of the year,” explains Gitty, a mikvah attendant.
Unlike the monthly ritual, which is highly discreet and follows strict rules, preparation for Yom Kippur is more relaxed as it is tradition based rather than law.
Although they immerse individually, the women wait en masse in reception. With Yom Tov chores to get back to, they chat as they anxiously await their turn.
“I become more like a bathroom attendant organising the flow of people coming through,” Gitty reveals.
I soon learn that the pre-high holy days’ hustle and bustle applies to all areas of preparation in the Charedi community.
Malky, a mother of seven, tells me how the chores are shared in her home.
“There’s so much more to do before Yom Tov, so I train my kids well! My big girls cook and bake from an early age. They help me make traditional meals, which include tzimmes (sweet carrots) and kugels, as well as a variety of meat dishes.”
Malky tells me that many Charedi women don’t buy honey cakes but prefer to bake their own using trusted family recipes.
Like many other large Charedi families, Malky has regular cleaning help, but insists her boys pitch in at busy times. “My seven-year-old can clean the bathroom like a pro,” she boasts.
At Berry’s, a popular local grocery shop, it’s hard to get inside as it is packed, with buggies parked haphazardly at the entrance.
Cherubic- looking young Chasidic children pass me by, clutching full baskets.
Established more than 30 years ago, Berry’s has many loyal customers and owner Dov Gefen believes the secret is the personalised ‘heimishe’ service offered.
“If I don’t have something when someone places an order, I go out and try to find it elsewhere,” he says.
Berry’s prides itself on its competitive prices during this season. “We offer a 20 to 30 percent discount on products, but most people still opt for the more expensive brands,” he explains. “This is because there’s a real focus in the community to splurge on the best products
for Yom Tov.”
Lining the shelves is an assortment of soft, luscious, locally-baked honey cakes from Renbake, Woodberry Down and Indig’s Heimishe bakery. Dov tells me that fine wines are high on the list, too, as well as the popular ready-made ‘simanim,’ eaten symbolically at the Rosh Hashanah meal after specific blessings to ensure a good new year.
A visit to Little People, one of the many local Charedi-run children’s clothing shops boasts rail upon rail of vibrant matching outfits. There is a mixture of designer and European brands and the prices reflect this. A colourful floral and organza piece catches my eye . It retails at a
cool £79. The sales assistant manages to talk to me in between constant interruptions from customers vying for attention.
“I haven’t stopped since I came in for my shift at 2pm. We get our Rosh Hashanah stock in at the end of July and pieces go very quickly.”
I probe as to why many Charedim prefer these shops to places in the West End and she says it is because they feel strongly about supporting fellow Jews.
“We also cater in terms of modesty and, as it’s local, they can bring their kids to try clothes on.”
Suri, a young Satmar Chasidic woman is shopping with her sons for Rosh Hashanah. She is buying matching outfits and says that many Charedi women do this as “it’s much simpler and the effect is cute.” She also relates that, in accordance with Chasidic custom, she dons a “white headscarf and apron” on Yom Kippur, which complements the white kittel (coat) her husband wears.
Like many others in the community, Suri and her husband buy most of their clothes in N16. She also reveals that she shops online using supervised access at the Heimishe Business Centre, as internet use at home is frowned upon.
But even though she can’t shop online after midnight like so many of us, Suri like all her friends and the rest of the Charedi community will be ready for Rosh Hashanah.