“We considered a number of approaches on how we would address it, but the information we got was that there was a large number of children involved, so in the end we decided the best approach was to just wait and try and contact people inside and negotiate with them to come out,” he said.
When police were finally able to contact those inside about 7.45pm, another group of community members came into the area and began “distracting police from their role”, he said, and officers moved away from the door. It was then that people who were inside the building left, some of them over neighbouring roofs to escape police attention. Police are investigating whether the group that turned up and distracted police did so deliberately.
Mr Barrett described the behaviour as “appalling” and said police had been trying to act in good faith to peacefully negotiate with those inside.
Asked whether police should have tried to enter the premises earlier in the day, Mr Barrett said he was comfortable with the tactics police had used.
Six people will each receive a $5452 fine for breaching COVID-19 restrictions.
Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said he was concerned about a rise in anti-Semitism following the incident.
“The racist blame game and finger-pointing has begun, especially on social media, and the Jewish community, which respects and obeys the law, should not be subjected to hatred, scapegoating and vilification because of the actions of a few,” Dr Abramovich said.
The Premier thanked faith and community leaders for standing up and calling out what he described as very bad behaviour.
“I don’t buy this line that people are not technologically savvy [and don’t know about restrictions]. This has been going for 20 months, everyone knows about this, this is not new.”
He said he hoped the gathering would not result in new COVID-19 cases and that people would not end up in hospital “as a result of those choices that have been made”.
Opposition MP David Southwick, the member for Caulfield, said he believed those involved had been using mental health support as a reason to gather under COVID restrictions, and he had previously raised concerns with the government and police.
“I’ve spoken to the Department of Health as well about this, and it was my understanding … that they were operating under effectively an AA-type meeting, a mental health group, that allows you to have 10 people congregate at a time. So, the department did not have enforceability powers because that group were operating within a certain guise,” he said.
Mr Southwick said there needed to be better outreach to communicate with the ultra-Orthodox group, as he was worried a lack of information was forcing them underground.
He said the majority of the Jewish community had been following the rules and the actions of a few had the potential to increase anti-Semitic sentiment.
One Caulfield woman, who did not want to be named because of fears of a backlash against her, told The Age the rest of the Jewish community was “disgusted and appalled” by the actions of the ultra-Orthodox attendees.
“It’s not because they are Jewish, it’s because they are thoughtless and entitled and think they are above the law,” she said.
She said she was worried about a rise in anti-Semitism, particularly after a surge in hateful incidents following an engagement party, which some in the community held in breach of restrictions.
Rosh Hashanah is part of the two-day Jewish New Year and is traditionally marked with a day of prayer and festive meals.
In recent weeks, leaders and rabbis sent messages out to the community urging them to observe their faith online and not to gather.
Mr Barrett also said exemptions had been granted so those within the community were permitted to blow their shofar – an instrument made from a ram’s horn that is traditionally sounded in synagogues to usher in the new year – while they were out walking.
Last year, some synagogues hosted live stream services instead of in-person gatherings.
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria expressed strong disappointment and condemned the actions of the group.
“The actions of a few do not represent the vast majority of our community who have celebrated Rosh Hashanah at home only with the people with whom they live, and just like the wider community, continue to follow the rules.”
The spokesperson said the council and other organisations had gone to great lengths to inform the community and encourage them to follow the rules and celebrate at home.
Mr Barrett said police were concerned about the behaviour of some in the wider community.
“We’re seeing members of every part of our community breach the CHO directions. We saw it only this week with a highly prominent Instagram influencer. So it’s not just the Jewish community or a small proportion of Jewish community who are breaching; it’s everyone.”
Other high-profile breaches of COVID restrictions have included an engagement party in Caulfield North and a gathering of Melbourne social media personality Nadia Bartel and three other women at a house in Richmond.
A cameraman filming the Ripponlea scene said he was assaulted by a man with a blow to the head and had been treated at The Alfred hospital for concussion.
He told The Age the man was one of those standing outside the synagogue, who at times confronted police and media.
With Cassandra Morgan
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