Just got back from the JW3 opening weekend - wow.
Timed to open just after Rosh Hashanah and all associated festivities are over, and taking the theme "in the beginning", the piazza was decked out as a Garden of Eden complete with graffiti art, Adam and Eve performance artists, cake, klezmer and... the whole building was abuzz with activity.
I'm bowled over by the creativity, programme, café / restaurant (can't wait to try those Ottolenghi-esque delicacies), finish on the building and general excitement of the new JW3 building.
Walking down the Finchley Road, it actually felt like a yomtov - throngs of well-dressed Jewish people walking towards a building for a common purpose, getting sidetracked saying hi to someone they hadn't seen in like forever. But a secular yomtov - a place where you can go and just be Jewish (not that I mind the other kind of Jewish building: in fact, I quite like shul).
Of course, there's always been a problem with a surfeit of Jewish buildings, and getting (especially younger people) inside them. Although somehow I suspect that this won't be a problem in NW3. Since I wrote about Jews and the Property Question in the Jewish Quarterly back in 2005, the project's moved on: there's no gym, and I'm more convinced that the Jewish Community Centre for London (as it was back then) will probably keep itself more than filled with locals, Finchleyites, and Jews and non-Jews of all hues, drawn by the food, vibe and programming.
Here are just five things I like:
1 It's a great building
(by great architects). Time was, Jewish buildings were slightly shabby , often painted that "Jewish blue" slightly reminiscent of the JNF, and felt like some youth club had just left it a little s'brochen. This building is light, airy, feels like a buzzing creative space where lots can (and will) happen. There's no hint of the rabbit-warren corridors familar in many shuls, or imperfect proportions of repurposed spaces.
2 There's no "Jewish airlock"
(As far as I can tell - there were thousands of people there today). Back in the day when I was involved in AJ6 / UJS / organisations based in Balfour House or 305 / visited the old JC offices, I found myself stuck in a Jewish airlock. You know: the first door opens and lets you into a security-glassed vestibule where a burly Israeli shouts through a small window demanding to know your business. Once you're approved, the second door opens.
Of course, I get it, security's important, but it's not (to me, anyhow) the defining feature of being Jewish. Like, if the world is divided into the CST (the people outside the building) and the rest of us (the people inside the building), I'm definitely inside the building. But still.
But what JW3 is saying is this: welcome, come in. However Jewish (or not) you might be, come and explore in this Jewish space.
3 The programme's great
Feels like there's something for everyone; foodies, textualists, kids, families, yoga-bunnies, seekers and finders. I love the diversity and creativity of what's on offer, the style that underlines it, and the depth of Jewish knowledge and insight that informs it.
4 Anglo-Jewry is finally funky
Well, it has been for a while. I've certainly felt for say eight years, that I don't need to go to New York anymore to get my funky/interesting Jewish fix. Jewish Book Week, the Jewish Film Festival, Gefiltefest, LSJS, Limmud, Grassroots Jews ... to name only a handful, have kept me engaged, excited, living, learning Jewish stuff and now there's one more piece to add to the jigsaw.
5 Raymond Simonson is the Secular Chief Rabbi
I've known Raymond through his Limmud years, and he's inspirational. He's knowledgeable, insightful, really knows how to engage people, and is also a DJ (although we shouldn't hold that against him.) While I know JW3 isn't only about secular stuff, I feel like secular Jews finally have someone to speak for and to them. And so, I officially crown you, Ray - Secular Chief Rabbi.
A few years back, I penned The New Jew Manifesto and I think I was trying to articulate the kind of Jew I want to be - open, open-minded, celebratory, positive, and I feel like in some way JW3 does this. Of course there are naysayers - no parking, how can they... - but I feel like there should just be more good Jewish stuff, and this is definitely that.
So - check it out. If you live anywhere near London and even if you don't (I saw old friends from all four corners of the city and beyond today) get down there. See a movie. Do some yoga. Take a class (or a cookery class) or just hang out in the bar.
Which is where you'll find me, my iPad, my work email, a coffee and a chocolate rogelach. See you there.