Chabad goes club class

Lubav­itch launches a Cen­tral Lon­don net­work­ing cen­tre

The Jewish Chronicle - - HOME NEWS - BY SI­MON ROCKER

IT IS Lon­don’s new­est club, in the heart of the West End — and 100 per cent kosher.

The Lubav­itch Gaon Club has opened for busi­ness as a lunchtime and af­ter-work cen­tre for younger metroJews to so­cialise and net­work.

“This is the first Jewish space out­side of a syn­a­gogue in cen­tral Lon­don,” the club’s pro­gramme di­rec­tor, Rabbi Mendy Vo­gel, told the JC this week.

Next Wed­nes­day, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks will for­mally launch the new ven­ture, sit­u­ated on the first floor of an el­e­gant Adam build­ing in Strat­ford Place. Op­po­site Bond Street Tube sta­tion, it is a few doors down from the con­tro­ver­sial Kab­balah Cen­tre’s Lon­don base.

Its cen­tre­piece is an el­e­gant cham­ber the size of a small ball­room, com­plete with Pal­la­dian pil­lars, which does duty as a café, lounge, func­tions room and lec­ture hall. Mod­ern art decks the walls, along with a 63-inch TV screen.

“The story is that the Prince of Qatar bought the house to be the Euro­pean head­quar­ters of Al-Jazeera,” ex­plained Rabbi Vo­gel. “But when he ap­plied for plan­ning per­mis­sion to put up an­ten­nae, the Amer­i­can em­bassy op­posed it, so he sold the build­ing.”

The club will host lunchtime and evening classes and guest speak­ers, as well as be­ing a place sim­ply for users to re­lax and schmooze. A cof­fee ma­chine dis­penses de­cent cap­puc­cino, sand­wiches will be on sale and take­aways can be or­dered in from kosher restau­rants in North-West Lon­don at night.

Over the past five years, Lubav­itch has been fo­cus­ing on Jews in their 20s and 30s, pro­vid­ing Fri­day-night din­ners and busi­ness break­fasts.

“There are many thou­sands of young Jews liv­ing in greater cen­tral Lon­don and many more work­ing there,” said Rabbi Yosef Vo­gel, Mendy’s brother and as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of Friends of Lubav­itch. “We be­lieve there may be as many as 10,000.”

They in­clude a no­table in­flux of Jews from abroad — Europe, South Africa and North Amer­ica — lured to Lon­don as an in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial cen­tre.

“If you place peo­ple on a scale of Jewish ob­ser­vance from one to 10, then our pri­mary fo­cus is not the seven and eights,” said Rabbi Yosef, “but the ones, twos and threes.

“Peo­ple work hard and don’t have much time. Yid­dishkeit is not top of their pri­or­ity list and they may not give it much at­ten­tion. It’s also the time in their lives when they have left the fam­ily home and their com­mu­ni­ties, and they are not nat­u­rally in­clined to be­long. So it is im­por­tant to keep them con­nected to some­thing greater.”

By any stretch, Friends of Lubav­itch is a suc­cess­ful or­gan­i­sa­tion, rais­ing al­most £6 mil­lion a year. Even the Vo­gels, how­ever, thought the cost of es­tab­lish­ing a Cen­tral Lon­don venue might be pro­hib­i­tive.

But it was the en­thu­si­asm of grate­ful par­tic­i­pants in young Lubav­itch ac­tiv­i­ties that per­suaded them oth­er­wise.

“Young peo­ple are mak­ing a lot of money and we started get­ting feed­back that they were in­ter­ested in sup­port­ing the project,” said Rabbi Yosef.

“The lease for the premises was given to us by a few in­di­vid­u­als in their mid-30s.”

With a “non-judg­men­tal” at­mos­phere and cos­mopoli­tan clien­tele, they hope the club will prove some­where “where ev­ery Jew can feel at home and take what­ever they want it from it”, said Rabbi Yosef.

Rabbi Mendy Vo­gel (left) with Alain Mes­sas, one of the back­ers, in Lubav­itch’s new so­cial cen­tre in Strat­ford Place

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