The gates did not open until 10.30 but long before that there was a queue — well, a Jewish queue, in which almost every other person had a pressing reason why he or she should not really need to be in the queue at all.
But queuers there were, stretching with relative good humour and anticipation down Finchley Road on Sunday morning, waiting to be among the first people to enter the most eagerly awaited project in Anglo-Jewry — the new JW3 building.
Despite the previous night’s sharp rainfall, the more than 100 JW3 volunteers had lovingly reassembled the first installation to hit the eye as the visitors — some of an estimated 5,000 on Sunday alone — rushed in over the very slightly wobbly bridge.
“In the Beginning”, a cheerful tribute to the Garden of Eden, took pride of place in the JW3 piazza, complete with a giant story-book, a tree of apples and some jolly volunteers dressed as Adam and Eve. Next to them, to the obvious delight of the children, teetered stiltwalkers with accordion and cymbals.
Nick Viner and Raymond Simonson, respectively the outgoing and incoming chief executives of JW3, the Jewish Community Centre for London, were wall-to-wall smiles throughout the day, giving interview after interview on how Dame Vivien Duffield’s vision had come to be realised. She was famously inspired by a visit to the Manhattan JCC in New York over 10 years ago, returning to London resolving to replicate the experience in the UK.
The most striking thing about Sunday’s opening was the breadth of age groups and the demographics: from the very old to the newly-born, from the kippah-wearing to those who had plainly never stepped over the threshold of any Jewish building before. And that was before we got to the Israelis, who famously never have anything to do with Anglo-Jewry, and the many non-Jews who had strolled in to have a look at what was going on.
Edith Muller from Stanmore was at the top end of the age spectrum. Yes, parking was bound to be difficult, she agreed, in a theme which ran throughout the day, but “I could see myself bringing my great-grandchildren”.
Angie Horovitz, from Oakleigh Park, had arrived with her husband, Stan. “It is wonderful, but it’s not a Manhattan project,” she mourned. “In Manhattan the Jews can walk everywhere.” But she was cheered when she discovered that the building would be open on Shabbat — complete with the largest Shabbat lift in Europe. “Now that’s imaginative,” the Horovitzes cheered.
In the demonstration kitchen, the first food workshop was getting under way, courtesy of the Kosher Roast girls, Amy Beilin and Lindsey Bennett. People crowded in to find out the secret of beer-battered bagels, the Jewish answer to deep-fried Mars Bars.
Up the corridor, in the Dance Studio, Marc Nohr and his team began teaching the basic moves of the Israeli self-defence system, Krav Maga. JW3 will now be one of London Krav Maga’s two major flagship centres.
Looking intently through the Dance Studio windows was Daniel Shalom, from Willesden. “I love this place,” he said. “I think it’s time to celebrate Jewish culture. I can see myself coming here to work with my laptop, eating downstairs… it looks great.”
And there was Eran Tibi, who heads the JW3 Zest kitchen with fellow chef Josh Katz, slumped at a table. He had been working for 24 hours straight, so there was some excuse: but soon he was fizzing with enthusiasm and ideas. “I want to show the real Israel, to make Zest like a good restaurant in Tel Aviv.”
Downstairs friends Margie Goldman, Frankie Green and Anne Steiner, friends had all signed up as JW3 members. What had they liked best? “Pretty much everything,” they said.