Oh what a beautiful building

The JCC is no white elephant but a magnificent animal that will inspire us all

By Daniel Finkelstein, September 21, 2010

When I was a boy, they built some shops round the corner from my house. They looked like rather a good thing to me. But what did I know? I was only a boy. And I was biased in any case, since the new stores provided one of the few places I could go without crossing a road.

So when the Evening Standard took a picture of the empty car park and suggested that the shops might be a white elephant, I was, well, a bit surprised but I imagined they might be right. They were journalists. It was in the newspaper. But it turned out that they had got it wrong about Brent Cross Shopping Centre. People did go. It was not a white elephant. And I learned to trust my instincts.

The Jewish community is about to embark on a massive capital project. A vastly ambitious mega-million-pound Jewish Community Centre on the Finchley Road in London.

The plans are made, the demolition men have the key in the ignition of the bulldozer and the builders are putting pencils behind their ears. And my instinct is that it will be extraordinary, a wonderful boon for the community, a raging success.

Some Jews question whether the JCC really needs its own building. The organisation has been doing good work, sponsoring Jewish cultural events at hired venues. Couldn't it go on doing that? Isn't it a bit of a waste of money and energy to build something special to house it?

It would be wonderful to have Jewish premises that are resolutely non-sectarian

No, I don't believe so.

To start off with, the dynamism of the organisation with its own premises, its own establishment, will be incomparably greater. So the JCC's success in promoting Jewish cultural life will be enhanced.

Some worry that the project siphons off money and saps energy. I don't believe that either money or energy work like that. In the end, I think this project will increase energy and increase fundraising for all Jewish causes.

Then there is the question of inclusiveness. It would be wonderful to have Jewish premises for social and cultural events that are resolutely non-sectarian, that belong to all religious factions in the community and to none. The divisions in our community run so dispiritingly deep, and are usually so ridiculously pointless, that it is uplifting to think that a JCC is even possible.

And this inclusiveness extends to Jews who are not observant at all. Not everyone shares this view, I know, but to me, non-observant Jews are vital to our community. It will be tremendous to have a really impressive place for Jews to congregate - as Jews - that isn't a place of worship. Aside from Golders Green bus station and Carmelli's. I think this will be particularly important for young people.

But there is one more point that trumps all of these. It is this. What's not to like? They are going to build a café, a cinema, a demonstration kitchen, a day-care nursery, a function hall, a dance and exercise studio, an art and craft workshop, and a multimedia education centre.

So what's not to like? How can this fail to make the community stronger? How can it fail to be life-enhancing for Jews? All over the world, we have these centres. Why not have one here? And why not make it really, really good?

Newspaper columns, I know, are for cool scepticism, for nuance, for premonitions of disaster. Well, not this one. For me, the JCC is magnificent. Magnificent for my family, magnificent for my community.

Vivien Duffield has given £25 million to make it work. 25. Million. Pounds. What a donation. What a woman. What a project.

Daniel Finkelstein is executive editor of The Times

Last updated: 10:41am, September 21 2010