LJCC chief cooks up a cultural alternative
A lot on her plate: Louise Jacobs (right) enjoying Gefiltefest, which was held at the LJCC’s Ivy House premises
The London Jewish Cultural Centre's new chief executive is seeking to build on the interest of those "looking for other ways to identify being Jewish".
Louise Jacobs - who succeeds Trudy Gold at the LJCC this month - says that people "aren't necessarily identifying through their synagogue, or through Israel. Where they are identifying is through culture and education."
In more than five years at the centre, she has been responsible for introducing initiatives such as the Hampstead and Highgate Literary Festival and the Ivy House Music and Dance.
Although the 47-year-old feels she knows the organisation well, stepping up to the top job "is scary. There's no better educator than Trudy. She's been unbelievably supportive."
However, Ms Jacobs brings to the post considerable commercial and media nous. After a business degree in French and German, she spent 15 years with financial PR Citigate Dewe Rogerson, becoming director of its UK business. She moved on to work for her father Sir Harry Solomon, co-founder of Hillsdown Holdings, one of Europe's largest food firms. Her involvement was in a family business, Heathside Investment, which helped to grow small companies.
During this period, she did a number of LJCC programmes, including Trudy Gold's modern Jewish history course. At the time, she was considering taking an MA in modern Israeli studies at UCL and needed an academic reference. "So I went to see Trudy, who I didn't know well, and explained what I wanted to do. As I hadn't studied for so long, I also needed to write an essay, which she helped me with."
When she cooled on the idea of an MA, Ms Gold suggested that she came to work with her instead.
"I was bought in to examine the LJCC, what they were doing, to look at where they sat in the community. It was during a period of transition - moving from being a small education organisation to a bigger, wider one, forging relationships with external organisations." When a vacancy emerged, she took over cultural programming.
Ms Gold is staying on to run the educational department. But Ms Jacobs feels "we have to move it [the centre] in a different direction".
A youth wing soon to be built will allow the centre to develop its provision for young people - "one of the really exciting things that we've been doing. What we offer is skill-based, such as drama courses or film-making."
An increase in these activities outside the LJCC premises excites her. "I'd love to do more of that. We've been approached by a number of Jewish schools to programme for them."
Married with three teenage children, Ms Jacobs has homes in Golders Green and Israel, where she has been actively involved in welfare charity the Jaffa Institute.
She is also a UJIA trustee and was for many years was on the Jewish Care campaign executive. "With my trustee hat on, I believe if you give up a lot of time to work in an organisation as a lay person, it's important for the chief executive to fully involve you. I've learnt a lot from [UJIA's] Doug Krikler and try and make sure our trustees are dealt with appropriately and so feel committed."
She feels her lay leadership involvement will benefit the centre as "it makes me understand the community better. The LJCC needs to be positioned at the heart of the community, so we want to make sure that we work with a number of other communal organisations."
Her communal responsibility stems from a philanthropic family. "My dad was involved in UJIA and in Jewish continuity so that has definitely had an influence. It's a natural step for me to be doing this."