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Following in Anna Pavlova's footsteps

PUBLISHED: 15:40 24 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:42 07 September 2010

THE former home of Anna Pavlova, Golders Green's adopted Russian ballerina, looks like it is preparing for a performance

THE former home of Anna Pavlova, Golders Green's adopted Russian ballerina, looks like it is preparing for a performance.

People are swinging in and out of doors, twirling on heels to stop each other mid-corridor with suddenly remembered messages.

Groups of people are fretting, laughing, chatting excitedly with an air of anticipation, and in the middle of it all, the raven-haired director, Trudy Gold, is sitting with coffee and cigarette packet, calm and content.

There are no longer any tutus at this North End Road centre and Ms Gold is no stage diva. Instead this is just a regular day in the sometime manic, but wonderfully buzzing, London Jewish Cultural Centre.

"People come here because they love knowledge and want more of it," Ms Gold enthuses. "We want students to come for a lesson and then end up staying all day for Pilates, exhibitions or more classes."

Ms Gold has been chief executive of the centre for four years and was head of education for five years prior to that.

She watched it grow from a homeless dream - only known in North West London - to a hugely successful centre based in a magnificent house at the top of the hill overlooking the capital.

But Ms Gold is anything but passive. She has helped frame the new era, bringing in her contacts from academia, her own friendships and beyond.

The glamorous "very proud grandmother" has more stories than Aesop and you could talk to her all day.

She is the archetypal connector and within five seconds of meeting she will already have patched you up with people you have to meet; interview, and one imagines on a second meeting, marry.

Getting on in life is all about "chutzpah, chutzpah, chutzpah" she tells me - and even though her own brand of that has brought in most people at the centre she remains modest about it.

"Hampstead is full of these interesting figures and they all just end up here. We had the guy who did the make up in The Elephant Man in the other day. He just happened to be passing and we ended up getting him to give a lecture.

"We employ people for their excellence - it is not just based on my contacts but the contacts of many, many people here."

Ms Gold's role as Queen bee has also not stopped her carrying on with her happy day job - teaching.

She started as a teacher at religion schools and then in Jewish history at local secondaries before working up to her current position.

Five times a week she teaches subjects from Jews and Hollywood to the Russian Revolution.

"I am passionate about it more than anything else," she says.

"To me what matters more than anything else is that people ask why."

Nowhere is that more pertinent than Holocaust education, according to Ms Gold.

The centre is Britain's representative on The International Taskforce of Holocaust Education whose members travel the world talking training teachers.

"We were doing a workshop on how villages in Eastern Europe taught the Holocaust," she recalls.

"One woman came to the front of the class to explain how she taught it. She said she got her students to write down all of their dreams on pieces of paper and then she put them all together and set fire to them. We couldn't teach her anything.

"In this country there are dreadful problems in the education system. We know what happened in the past but this cruelty is still going on, we teach it but the world is not improving."

The most important lesson for Ms Gold is the need to stamp out prejudice in which she says Britain is worryingly entrenched.

"We are in a very dangerous position," she states. "More and more we are demonising other groups. I hosted an interfaith meeting of Muslim and Jewish women last month and when we sat down we realised a lot of what we were facing was the same."

Though as graceful as Pavlova in her modesty, you can tell Ivy House's new principal also has the propensity to be a nutcracker.

A Jewish centre in London has to attract people who couple an array of differing identities with their Judaism - British, Israeli, secular, orthodox, political and none of the above.

But under Ms Gold the centre has never been wary of courting controversy.

Ghada Karmi, the Palestinian academic who is an outspoken critic of Israel, gave a talk there and it has had several events with Naomi Alderman, whose first book was about the lesbian daughter of an orthodox Rabbi.

"We believe in debate and freedom of expression and are completely non-political," Ms Gold says.

"But we are still sensitive to the views of all sections of the community. You can use commonsense to determine whether something would go too far."

She has plans for more concerts in the grounds and a media centre with film-making facilities for young people.

Much like Pavlova's decision to dance her whole life - it is unlikely Trudy Gold will ever be able to tear herself away from the new occupation of Ivy House.

katie.davies@hamhigh.co.uk

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