Non-Jews ac­count for one-in-five vis­its to JW3

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMUNITY NEWS - BY BARRY TOBERMAN

THE IN­CREAS­ING pop­u­lar­ity of JW3 among non-Jews is con­tribut­ing to ris­ing at­ten­dances at the Finch­ley Road com­mu­nity cen­tre.

There were more than 220,000 vis­its to JW3 in 2016, an av­er­age of around 4,500 a week. Visit num­bers have reached 6,000 in re­cent weeks, sparked by at­trac­tions such as the sea­sonal ice rink, a chil­dren’s lit­er­ary fes­ti­val and record de­mand for its screen­ings of the film, De­nial, based on Holo­caust de­nier David Irv­ing’s li­bel case against historian Pro­fes­sor Deb­o­rah Lip­stadt.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Ray­mond Si­mon­son be­lieves non-Jews ac­count for as much as 20 per cent of vis­its. Con­trib­u­tory el­e­ments in­clude the pop­u­lar­ity of its Zest restau­rant among the wider pop­u­la­tion and the broader ap­peal of ac­tiv­i­ties like lan­guage classes and krav maga.

For exam- ple, he says he is one of just four Jews in the krav maga class for 30 or so peo­ple he takes. “Chat­ting to peo­ple, you find they are com­ing from south and east Lon­don be­cause the class has a good rep­u­ta­tion.”

Mr Si­mon­son was de­lighted to see the cen­tre’s Chanukah Funukah pro­gramme at the top of the list of Time Out mag­a­zine’s five things to do over Christ­mas. “It was not be­cause it sold more seats. To see the cen­tre re­flected in such a pos­i­tive way is a ma­jor part of our mis­sion. If some­thing ap­pears in the main­stream press, it is likely to be about an­tisemitism or Is­rael. To have a counter to that is im­por­tant. We can play a role in mak­ing Bri­tish Jews feel proud of their her­itage in a build­ing which 34 mil­lion ve­hi­cles go past each year.” When a group of Liver­pudlian Jews came to JW3 to hear a talk by Dr Stephen Smith, founder of the Na­tional Holo­caust Cen­tre, they were im­pressed the build­ing was high­lighted on the lo­cal map at Finch­ley Road tube.

Some 1,600 peo­ple passed through JW3’s doors on Christ­mas Day, with all cin­ema and ice skat­ing sessions sold out. “I’d have been very happy with 800,” Mr Si­mon­son re­called. “And for 1,000, we’d be do­ing high fives.

“They say we have no car park­ing but this was on a day when there was no pub­lic trans­port.”

In Zest, a Ja­panese cou­ple on a date could be at the next ta­ble to a group of kipah-wear­ing din­ers. In other ar­eas of the build­ing, pro­grammes had brought in Mus­lims who had never been in a Jewish space for cul­tural events where they sat along­side Jews.

“It’s easy to be dis­mis­sive but a lot of what we do isn’t just for en­ter­tain­ment’s sake. We can use music, the­atre, com­edy and literature to spark a con­ver­sa­tion.”

Fi­nan­cially, the cen­tre had ex­pe­ri­enced its best year. The chal­lenge was rais­ing £2 mil­lion an­nu­ally from 2018, Mr Si­mon­son ex­plained, and there would be at least one fundrais­ing cam­paign this year. “We are on course to­wards that al­though I say that with­out com­pla­cency. Peo­ple don’t think of us as one of the 10 [key] Jewish char­i­ties. But a hand­ful of Jewish phi­lan­thropists who weren’t in­volved be­fore are now com­ing on board.

“Be­cause it’s a com­mu­nity cen­tre, it should be owned by the com­mu­nity. One per­son giv­ing £50,000 is eas­ier for us but I would pre­fer 1,000 peo­ple giv­ing £50.”

With no com­pa­ra­ble model in the coun­try to look at, the first three years of op­er­a­tion had been a learn­ing curve and there was now less hes­i­tancy to cut ac­tiv­i­ties that were not work­ing — “our fun­ders rightly hold us to task”. By con­trast, “we could fill the place with krav maga and lan­guage stu­dents. But we don’t want to be a He­brew school.” A per­cent­age of the bud­get was kept back for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and there were pro­gram­ming strands the cen­tre was com­mit­ted to.

“We want to keep hol­i­day playschemes af­ford­able,” Mr Si­mon­son said by way of ex­am­ple. “If Zest makes a profit tonight, that sub­sidises Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Day ac­tiv­i­ties or sum­mer schemes.”

One per­son giv­ing £50k is eas­ier. But I pre­fer 1,000 giv­ing £50’

PHOTO: BLAKE EZRA

Krav maga is among ac­tiv­i­ties with broader ap­peal

PHOTO: HAGAI FRID

Ray­mond Si­mon­son

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