Capital home from home attracts the marrying kind

By Simon Rocker, February 13, 2014

Set up as a club for young Jews to meet, there is one statistic of which the Centre for Jewish Life is particularly proud.

Around 80 couples who have gone, or plan to go under the chupah, first met at its elegant premises in London's West End.

Originally a Lubavitch venture but independent for the past five years, it has been especially successful in attracting many of the young Jews who have come to the UK to work from the United States, South Africa, Australia and all over Europe.

"It's been a home from home," said Tommy from Vienna. It's about "friends, professional contacts and intellectual stimulation all in one place," said American Elise.

Around 9,300 young people - average age 29 - have crossed its threshold, with 1,000 new faces in the past year, guests at its fifth anniversary dinner at the Montcalm Hotel were told on Monday.

Young professionals from abroad integrate with the locals

"Central London is very international and that is reflected in the Jews coming here," said Rabbi Yosef Vogel, who runs CJL with his brother Mendy. "What we have managed to do is to integrate young professionals from abroad with locals. The English are looking to broaden their horizons beyond north-west London more and more. That makes it very vibrant."

Jaime Cohen, 26 from California, met her Londoner husband Jonathan at a Friday-night dinner at the centre just over two years ago. "It is a wonderful place for young professional Jews from all backgrounds," she said. "As someone who moved here, I found meeting people quite difficult."

Recommended by friends to try the centre, "I sat at the table and to my right was Jonny. We were married in November 2012 and now we are expecting our first child."

It has also built up a reputation as a business networking centre for the aspirational, with a programme that has included talks from leading Jewish business figures such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Lord Fink and Sir Ronald Cohen. Most of its £800,000 annual operating cost is covered by donors.

Rabbi Vogel said that, over the next year, "there will be greater focus on leadership development and the responsibility of giving back to the community".

One hope is to do more for Israel advocacy - a challenge highlighted by the dinner's guest speaker, Brigadier-General Yosef Kuperwasser, director- general of Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs. While Israel had won conventional wars and combated terror, it faced a new threat on the political battlefield from attempts to delegitimise it internationally, he explained.

"What we need today is to find a way to outsmart our enemies in this respect." It was not a battle for Israel alone. "All the Jewish people have to be mobilised for that purpose."

As long as the Palestinians believed that Israel could be isolated, he argued, they would not make peace.

    Last updated: 1:44pm, February 13 2014