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After a 110-year absence, the appearance of Yiddish in the 2011 Census has provoked controversy among the strictly Orthodox Stamford Hill community – who would prefer it to be Hebrew.
Stamford Hill community leaders Rabbi Avraham Pinter and Ita Symons decried the measure, achieved after a lengthy consultation process between the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Board of Deputies and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, as “tokenism” and “patronising” respectively.
Rabbi Pinter, head of Yesodey Hatorah School, said: “This smacks of political correctness and tokenism. The number who can’t fill out a form in English is quite small.
“It’s far more pressing that it’s translated into Hebrew, as Israelis marrying into the Stamford Hill community can often only read and write in Hebrew.”
Ita Symons, of the Agudas Israel Housing Association, said: “If they are suggesting people can’t read English that’s patronising and incorrect. The real issue is people are either against it or can’t be bothered to do it. They need someone they trust to help them to engage with the process.
“I doubt if there are even 100 families in Stamford Hill who can only read and write in Yiddish,” she added.
The issue surrounding the under-representation of Stamford Hill flared up after the 2001 Census.
In listing “Jewish” as an option under religion for the first time, it recorded the Stamford Hill Jewish population as just 8,000, despite the community asking Hackney Council for facilities catering for 20,000.
A spokesman for the Board said: “We will encourage all members of the community to complete the Census and to answer the question about religion, which is voluntary.
“We will also be in close contact with the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, Interlink, Agudas Israel Community Services and corresponding organisations in Manchester and Gateshead. We believe the best way to do this is by ensuring the publicity for the Census, and perhaps even the document itself, is in Yiddish.
“The number of people that speak Hebrew but not Yiddish or English will be small, but we are happy to make representations to the ONS if there is a significant section of the community only able to communicate in Hebrew.”
David Graham, director of social and demographic research at IJPR and a co-author of its report on the last Census, said: “I am very pleased. It shows that the ONS are accommodating the views of various groups, and we should be very pleased that it considers accurate enumeration of the Jewish community as a priority.”
He explained: “There was a suspected undercount of Charedim in the 2001 Census, particularly in Stamford Hill and Broughton Park to the order of an estimated 30 to 40 per cent.”
ONS asked them if it would make a difference if a form were produced in Hebrew, but IJPR suggested Yiddish. “I think the community would appreciate the effort and it would probably help the work of encouraging as many Jewish people as possible to respond.”
The Census data was important in helping local authorities to determine where to spend on services.
“The underenumeration of Jews in Hackney had very serious implications for the local authority in how they chose to distribute their money,” Dr Graham said.