CEO of JW3 Jewish community centre hopes it will rival the Barbican and Southbank
- Credit: Archant
Raymond Simonson is not launching London’s newest community and cultural centre in Finchley Road quietly.
With over 1,000 events planned between October and December, he wants to get as many people, from a variety of different backgrounds, religions and ages, as possible into the new-building – determined as he is that JW3 will be classed with the likes of the Barbican and Southbank Centre within a few short years.
“I want to make a statement from day one,” says the 40-year-old incoming chief executive officer, as he sits in his newly painted office on the centre’s fourth floor. “Our events won’t be just the kind of thing you will see in your synagogue.”
He continues: “Some people might think it’s ludicrous to compare ourselves to the Southbank Centre or the Barbican but the facilities we’ve got are outstanding. Our ambition is to match these venues.”
With JCC, standing for Jewish Community Centre, in large letters on the side of the building, JW3 does not shy away from its Jewish credentials.
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But Mr Simonson, who was executive director of Jewish organisation Limmud for seven years before moving to JW3 in October 2012, is determined that the centre will bring people together from all walks of life.
Bar mitzvahs, Israeli film screenings and talks from key figures in the Jewish community will all take place and Mr Simonson wants Jewish culture to remain at the heart of the centre. “We make no bones about it, our core demographic is the Jewish community,” he says. “There are some wonderful Jewish organisations but a lot of them only have events once or twice a year.”
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But Mr Simonson, from Finchley, is very clear that he wants the centre to be a place where people from all different religions, backgrounds, ages and ethnicities will feel welcome.
“I want JW3 to be a shining beacon of what Jewish life and the community is all about, a venue that can bring people together whose paths haven’t crossed over a love of food, music and the arts,” he explains.
“When people come together, and this might sound cheesy, but that’s when magic happens. It happened on a grand scale last summer at the Olympics.”
In a year’s time, Mr Simonson hopes the centre will be brimming with people, either in the outdoor piazza, the meat-free restaurant, the auditorium or the screening room.
“Whether it’s a Monday in January or a Sunday afternoon in October, there will always be something I could go to, that my mother could go to somewhere else in the building, and that my kids could do something else as well,” he says.
“JW3 will be a magnet that draws people in.”