A Stamford Hill yeshivah celebrated the festival of Lag ba’Omer on Sunday by burning giant Magen Davids in a show of anti-Zionism.
A video clip which surfaced on the internet this week showed teenagers bobbing and clapping to music as their bonfire consumed the emblem of the state of Israel in the grounds of the Toras Chesed yeshivah.
“It is shocking, but they don’t regard it as a problem,” said a former student of the institution who witnessed similar spectacles in previous years.
“Usually bochurim [students] aren’t allowed mobile phones or any devices to take pictures,” he added.
On Lag ba’Omer — which marks a break in the semi-mourning period of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot — it is traditional in some circles to light bonfires to mark the anniversary of the death of the second-century mystic, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
The head of the yeshivah, Rabbi Chaim Yehuda Babad, explained that it followed Satmar, the largest Chasidic sect which believes the state of Israel is illegitimate because it pre-empted the coming of the Messiah.
Staff had not planned the burning of the stars, he said.
“We belong to Satmar and we are anti-Zionist but usually in Satmar we don’t do such things. The boys just did it and nobody made an issue out of it. They just did it and we didn’t do anything about it.” But he added: “If it causes chaos and disturbs people, I would consider not allowing it”.
While some in Stamford Hill’s strictly Orthodox community regard Toras Chesed as extreme in its views, the ex-student said the yeshivah was respected for the quality of its learning. “I would say it is the biggest yeshivah in Stamford Hill. It is considered choshev [important].”
The fire brigade was called out several times in the north London district to attend to festive bonfires threatening to get out of control.