Jews, queues and ‘hi, how are yous!’ Opening day at the new JW3

Jews, queues and ‘hi, how are yous!’ Opening day at the new JW3


Lights, music, action!

© Blake Ezra Photography Ltd 2013.
© Blake Ezra Photography Ltd 2013.

It’s been 10 years in the making and now it’s finally here – London’s very own Jewish community centre building, an all-singing all-dancing answer to what Dame Vivien Duffield discovered in cities all across the US when she toured in 2002.

Except there wasn’t any singing or dancing when I arrived on Monday night. I kind of expected to be greeted by a klezmer band or at the very least the local shul choir – this was the second of two much celebrated launch nights, after all – but the vast entrance foyer was devoid of any musical accompaniment… and, it must be said, of any frisson of excitement too.

This wasn’t the only thing notable in its absence – where was the security? There has been a LOT of hype about the new JW3. No one can possibly have driven up and down the Finchley Road over the past few years and not seen that it was coming. Radio news stations were full of its opening over the weekend.

Everyone knows that at any given time lots and lots of Jews are likely to be housed within its walls – surely there needs to be something more official in place than a cheery chap at the gate who just says a friendly hello as you walk past.

From the road the building looks like a collection of glass pods and even at night this contemporary design creates a feeling of light and space both inside and on the outdoor piazza that it overlooks (which will, I’m told, play host to food markets in summer and ice skating in winter among other things).

I made my way down to Zest, the café/bar/restaurant on the lower ground floor. I am very excited about this as the two chefs are ex-Ottolenghi and anyone who knows me knows that I am Ottolenghi obsessed!

© Blake Ezra Photography Ltd 2013.
© Blake Ezra Photography Ltd 2013.

Much has been touted about the creative energy of the chefs (one Israeli, one English) and the Israeli/middle eastern influence in the menu and indeed from a design aesthetic it pays homage to many of the cafes I visited on a recent trip to Tel Aviv.

This place is going to be good, I can feel it in my bones… but alas there were no wares to sample last night. Zest is not yet open for business.

I was at JW3 to see a live performance by Ronna and Beverly, the famous fifty-something American Jewish mothers (played by thirty-somethings Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo) who host a chat show on Sky Atlantic and in theatres.

Having arrived early and in need of sustenance, my friends and I made our way back out of the centre in search of dinner, returning an hour later (again no security checks) to find that the place had sprung to life.

A large queue had formed outside the hall (next to the restaurant) and here at last was the excitement and sense of anticipation I had been seeking.

A few ‘hi how are yous’ followed, as expected, but essentially this was an unfamiliar crowd. JW3 welcomes Jews of every age, background and persuasion, people of other faiths and people of no faiths. This, I feel, is one of its strengths.

And so to the reason for coming. Taking my seat in the 268-seat auditorium (the seats are removable to allow the hall to double up as a function space that seats 200), I felt proper proud.

© Blake Ezra Photography Ltd 2013.
© Blake Ezra Photography Ltd 2013.

Here I was in my home town, the city that I love, at the launch night of my community’s very own centre, something that has been dreamed up, designed and created largely by and mostly for Jews, to give us somewhere to meet, to eat (when the café opens!), to become involved, to learn, to be inspired, to be entertained.

And entertained I certainly was.

From the moment Ronna and Beverly walked on the stage, when they told us how delighted they are that the London Jews finally have a community centre. “You have a home. Forget about next year. This is it. You’re here now. Enjoy it. Never mind there’s no parking. You go to the O2, you park your car, you get a yoo moo, you get your ticket validated, easy. It’s not so far. Far enough that you can complain about the walk, but not so far that you can’t get here.” (They’d clearly done their homework.)

I was entertained throughout their love/hate squabbles with each other (“She turned up at my son’s barmitzvah wearing the same dress as me”), during Beverly’s shameless flirting with film critic Jason Solomons (“You’re so cute, does your wife mind that you go and see all these movies without her?”), throughout their systematic humiliation of TV presenter Sue Perkins (“Have you ever been with a man?).

The problem is there are no funny lesbians – they’re all so serious”) and certainly in my one-to-one interview with them after the show, during which they told me that they came all the way to London to help launch JW3 because: “We felt that the Jews of England needed us”.

I certainly needed them last night – best laugh I’ve had in years! (Plus the tickets were only a tenner – bargain!)

(One small gripe – nightclubbers may be used to having their hand stamped upon entry to an establishment, but standing in my bathroom scrubbing away at a black smudge with a Simple wipe at midnight is not the ideal end to a night out. Come on JW3, surely you can come up with something better).

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