Here’s a place for all of us

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Jen­nifer Lip­man

BUT WHAT about the park­ing?” That was the ques­tion on peo­ple’s lips at the first JW3 event I ever at­tended four years ago, a few weeks be­fore it for­mally opened its doors. The build­ing al­ready looked im­pres­sive, the in­au­gu­ral pro­gramme in­cluded Kevin Spacey and Ni­cholas Hyt­ner, and the mood at the Q&A with phi­lan­thropist Dame Vivien Duffield, Daniel Finkel­stein and Lord Sacks was ebul­lient. “I’m look­ing for­ward to us­ing my free bus pass to get there,” joked Lord Sacks as guests griped about not be­ing able to drive to it.

It’s fair to say that, when con­ceived, there were doubts about cre­at­ing a US-style Jewish com­mu­nity cen­tre in Lon­don. The project was be­set with de­lays — ini­tially launched in 2003, the re­ces­sion put paid to a speedy open­ing and it took a decade and some £50m to reach fruition. There were other con­cerns: who would use it? Would it be­come a bas­tion of Or­tho­dox Ju­daism but of­fer noth­ing to Pro­gres­sive com­mu­ni­ties? Would it steal from other Jewish cul­tural hubs like the LJCC (the two have since merged), or from smaller events at shuls? I shared some of those fears. An­glo Jewry is not Amer­i­can Jewry, with its ten­dency to­wards out­ward ex­pres­sions of Jewish­ness. Would JW3 be too noisy, too much?

“Every­one was against this,” Dame Vivien ex­plained at that first event. “They thought their shuls had very good com­mu­nity cen­tres.” And, she laughed; they both didn’t want it and thought it “should be in the street next to them”.

Well, they say if you build it they will come, and so it‘s been (with the ex­cep­tion of a small mi­nor­ity, but more on that shortly). I travel up the Finch­ley Road on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and more of­ten than not JW3 is lit up, crowds vis­i­ble through its glass-fronted ex­te­rior. Zest, its restau­rant, has be­come the un­think­able; a kosher joint non-Jews might ac­tu­ally want to go to.

Four years on, and I was wrong; we might not be Amer­i­can, but there is some­thing won­der­ful about see­ing Jewish­ness so cheer­fully, proudly rep­re­sented in one of Lon­don’s busiest thor­ough­fares, es­pe­cially in a pe­riod when be­ing pub­licly Jewish in Europe has oc­ca­sion­ally felt un­com­fort­able. When the in­stinct has rather been to keep our com­mu­nal head down, JW3 and its CEO Ray­mond Si­mon­son have taken the op­po­site ap­proach; we’re here, we’re Jewish, let’s talk about it.

And not just one ver­sion of Jewish­ness, but Jewish­ness of dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and is­sues; from Purim par­ties to fam­ily fun­days and from cel­e­bra­tions of Is­rael or Sephardi cul­ture to com­mem­o­ra­tions of his­tory, to Ge­filte­fest and sea­sonal sta­ples such as the Hamp­stead Beach.

At that first event, Dame Vivien spoke of hop­ing to see JW3 host the Chief Rabbi with the Grand Mufti and the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury. That may not have tran­spired but the cen­tre does bring dif­fer­ent groups to­gether; from Or­tho­dox to Re­form to those for whom cul­ture is the driv­ing force of their iden­tity, and those who aren’t Jewish at all.

I’ve at­tended my share of events; a mem­o­rable Book Week panel dis­sect­ing the Jewish­ness of Dirty Danc­ing, screen­ings and lec­tures, at least three hus­tings, and myriad din­ners at Zest.

I will even at­tend a wed­ding soon of a cou­ple who first met at a JW3 event. Yes, I could have gone to those events else­where, but would I have?

In the midst of an un­re­lent­ing stream of bad news, from last week’s an­ti­semitism fig­ures to ten­sion in Is­rael, it’s im­por­tant to cel­e­brate good things, too. With shul mem­ber­ship down, JW3 does much to pro­mote a sense of com­mu­nal be­long­ing. It is proof that An­glo-Jewry can in­no­vate, can do things dif­fer­ently, and sur­vive, even thrive.

In Fe­bru­ary, JW3 in­vited vis­i­tors to a se­ries of GayW3 events. At the time, the hoard­ings were graf­fi­tied; now a let­ter urg­ing a boy­cott has emerged signed by a ca­bal of ul­tra-Or­tho­dox rab­bis, con­demn­ing JW3 for pro­mot­ing a life­style “in to­tal con­tra­dic­tion to Or­tho­dox Ju­daism”.

It’s a de­press­ing, disgraceful at­tack, and one to which our re­sponse — what­ever our af­fil­i­a­tion — should be re­solv­ing to sup­port JW3 all the more. JW3 has of­fered com­mon ground to so many. What a shame a small num­ber of an­ti­quated “lead­ers” choose to sow divi­sion in a place of unity.

I may not go weekly, or even ev­ery month, but there gen­uinely is some­thing spe­cial about th­ese events hap­pen­ing in one home; all th­ese dif­fer­ent man­i­fes­ta­tions of Ju­daism and Jewish en­gage­ment swirling round un­der one roof. Not at a shul al­lied with a par­tic­u­lar stream, but at a Jewish cen­tre that does not ex­pect any­thing as you walk through the door. To those wish­ing to boy­cott JW3, I say: “your loss”.

‘We’re here, we’re Jewish, let’s talk about it.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.