Police are probing a serious assault on the United Synagogue’s burial chief Melvyn Hartog close to his home in Chigwell on Saturday night.
The JC understands that Mr Hartog was struck on the back of his head with an object after receiving a phone call asking him to collect a package that had been sent to him from a person claiming to be working for a delivery firm.
He was repeatedly kicked as he fell to the floor.
Sources say the attacker appeared to be from the Charedi community and had been hiding behind a tree until Mr Hartog, who is in his 70s, arrived at the suggested pick-up point across the road from the home he shares with his wife.
After falling to the ground Mr Hartog, who has worked as the US burial chief for 18 years and previously served in the Royal Navy, grappled with the attacker, who lost his kippah and his black spectacles in the attack.
One family friend said: “This is an utterly horrific incident, and to make it even worse appears to have been carried out by a member of the Charedi community.
“It seems like the initial phone call to Melvyn was made by someone with an understanding of the laws around Shabbat.
“Then to wait behind a tree before carrying out an assault on man of Melvyn’s age. It just beggars belief.
“But the attacker sounds as though he got more than he bargained for as Melvyn started to fight back.
“One must hope that the fact police forensics have now taken possession of a pair of glasses and a kippah will quickly lead them to find out the identity of the person that did this.”
The attacker quickly left the scene after the confrontation. It is unclear if he was driven away from the scene by an accomplice and carried out the assault on his own.
Police are also looking at CCTV footage from nearby Grange Hill train station.
The aftermath of the incident, which left Mr Hartog hospitalised and requiring stitches in a wound across the back of his head, was witnessed by at least two onlookers.
They immediately contacted police who attended the scene and took statements.
Mr Hartog was taken to nearby Whipps Cross Hospital where he was kept overnight.
It is understood the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was among those to send a message of support and comfort to the popular grandfather.
In his role at the US, Mr Hartog is often made to take difficult decisions involving Jewish burials.
On Monday, Mr Hartog confirmed to the JC that he had been the victim of the attack, but said he did not want to discuss the incident further while police investigated.
In a statement on Monday, Essex Police confirmed it was investigating the attack, which happened just before 6.20pm.
A spokesperson said the victim "suffered superficial wounds after being hit over the back of a head with a branch and being kicked after he fell to the floor.
“A man, described as wearing a long coat and having his hair in ringlets, then left the scene in the direction of Grange Hill train station.
“Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call 101 and quote the crime reference number 42/193586/19.”
Steven Wilson, chief executive of the United Synagogue, said: "We are shocked to learn about this unprovoked attack on Saturday evening.
"The United Synagogue is supporting Melvyn as he recovers. Melvyn is a valued and popular member of staff who supports our members and their families at the most delicate time of their life.
"The United Synagogue condemns the attack in the strongest possible terms and is working with the relevant authorities."