Boris Johnson has paid tribute to the “great tradition of charitable giving” at the official ground breaking of a new Jewish Community Centre (JCC) in Finchley Road.
Signalling the launch of the new centre by blowing on a shofar, a ram’s horn used for Jewish religious purposes, the Mayor of London told an audience of invited guests the JCC will help unite the Jewish community.
He said: “This will be a fantastic new centre and will do wonderful things for this community.
“This is going to be a vital part of our general drive to tackle inequality.
“When you think we have one in four who cannot read or write when they leave primary school. This is a vital resource for this part of London, indeed, for the whole of London.”
The JCC is the brainchild of well-known philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield who was inspired to set up a distinctively Jewish cultural hub after touring several similar centres in the United States.
It will include arts rooms, a 60-seat screening room and workshop spaces which will be opened up to the whole community.
Turning to Dame Duffield, Mr Johnson added: “I think, Vivien, it would be fair to say you have done more than almost anybody else in London to revive the great tradition of charitable giving.”
More than five years of fundraising and planning have gone into centre, and construction work has now begun.
Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said: “The centre is going to be the first really secular centre and will appeal to a lot of Jews who don’t find their natural home in a synagogue.
“We believe that Jewish life, as history and its contribution aesthetically is important and that this will reach out to Jews who don’t normally identify with it.
“I don’t think it is so much a matter of age as a matter of interest. There are some people who are very moved by Jewish history, others Jewish art and others by Jewish ideas.
“We believe that the community centre must entice as many people as possible.”
Many similar centres exist in the United States, but Nick Viner, the JCC’s chief executive, said until now British Jews have “lacked the confidence” of their American cousins.
Dame Duffield said: “I hope that every single Jew, no matter how religious they are, will be able to use the centre, and that in the end it will be a really Jewish talking shop.”
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By Kate Ferguson