Chabad goes club class
Lubavitch launches a Central London networking centre
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