By Justin Cohen.
For those lucky enough to have already ventured beyond the glass veneer, it’s clear why the team behind JW3 should have the confidence to be talking about “London’s newest iconic venue”.
For those that have driven past the Finchley Road facility over the past few months or looked forward to sampling its offerings for the 3,000-plus days since plans were first unveiled, that moment will finally arrive with this Sunday’s launch day.
And if you thought the building was impressive from the outside, just wait until you step inside. Enter on the ground floor and you are immediately greeted by two elements that mark this facility out from anything the community currently knows: a piazza that will host an ice skating ring in winter and a bar and restaurant inspired by the Tel Aviv dining scene. And that’s even before you get to perhaps the most striking feature – a fully functioning 60-seater cinema not dissimilar from your local Everyman.
But it’s more than just the facilities themselves that have the potential to make a real impact on the communal landscape; you know leaders have ground breaking designs when they set their sights on raising the quality, variety and volume of Jewish conversation in the capital.
Organisers hope that Jews of all religious affiliations will come together under JW3’s neutral roof, recognising that ‘Jewish conversation’ can centre as much around a Woody Allen film screening or ‘deconstructing the latke’ cookery class as around Talmud study.
Judaism is undoubtedly woven into every aspect of JW3 – from the opening times to the Shabbat lift and, quite literally, in the Hebrew lettering stitched into the restaurant’s table mats.
But the wider community of London is also being encouraged to descend on JW3 to partake in some of the 1,300 activities on offer during the launch season, to boost their knowledge of Jewish culture and perhaps even to enhance friendships between communities. If tumbling across the ice rink or tucking into a smoked salmon bagel isn’t enough to show we enjoy much in common despite our differences, then surely nothing will!
If JW3 can play some role in bringing together visitors – both Jews and non-Jews – who may otherwise have had limited opportunities to mingle then it will indeed become an iconic venue for reasons beyond its facilities or ‘In the Beginning’ programme. If it can do this while broadening the community’s horizons and increasing its confidence to put its head above the parapet – within a building permanently emblazoned with the words ‘Jewish’ in seven-foot letters – it could truly mark a new ‘beginning’ for Anglo-Jewry.
Such lofty goals are no less modest than the project’s £50million cost. But who’d doubt the team behind JW3. In the words of Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks: “I realised that Vivien was Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come”. The reaction to her was the same as to Costner: you are crazy! If it’s really crazy and everyone is against it that is a project you just have to support.
“I have seen JCCs have transformative effects on communities. They bring something to a community that that just wasn’t there before.”