As Covid restrictions are lifted, being open is more than just a building

Raymond Simonson putting up a welcoming sign onto the door of JW3 (Credit: Blake Ezra)
Raymond Simonson putting up a welcoming sign onto the door of JW3 (Credit: Blake Ezra)

As Covid restrictions end, let’s remember that ‘being open’ is about more than whether a building is physically open or shut

This week, the Government is expected to lift almost all of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England.

When lockdown started many people asked me what would happen to JW3, known for our physical Jewish Community Centre at the heart of London’s dynamic Jewish community.

I’d always said that JW3 isn’t simply a building, and I’m proud that over two years of being open-closed-open, we have continued to reach thousands of people week in, week out, with high quality online programmes that have lifted spirits, engaged minds, and enriched lives. Many of our events have reached significantly larger audiences than we ever had before, far beyond London, and our footprint has become far larger than our shoe-size.

As restrictions have eased, we have gradually and carefully opened our doors to all and held many of our classes, events and performances in person. Now that restrictions are ending, we are keen to welcome more and more people back inside our Jewish Community Centre, whilst offering multiple hybrid opportunities for those unable to join in person.

However, as Covid restrictions end, it is important for us to remember that ‘being open’ is about so much more than whether our physical building is open or shut.

Openness extends far beyond the physical dimension, the lifting of restrictions. Openness is a value, a mindset, a dedication and a commitment to listen to others and embrace differences. With the visionary support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, JW3 has created programmes that promote a vibrant,  diverse, and unified British-Jewish community, enabling the widest possible range of people to engage with Jewish life and, crucially, to connect to and converse with one another.

From thematic Friday Night Dinners, celebratory parties and crash courses in the Jewish Festivals, family events in Hebrew, Russian and French, to a splattering of events for specific groups such as Jews of Colour, LGBTQ+ community and others, everyone is welcomed. Our micro-communities initiative offers a safe space for a variety of different identities too. Our learning programmes are always run by at least two different educators, each from different denominations. Our “Young JW3” programming, dedicated to allowing younger adults to engage with Jewish life in their own terms and with their full selves, reflects this openness and diversity.

Cooking at JW3 during the pandemic ((C) Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2020)

We learn from our sources that Abraham and Sarah’s tent was opened on all corners to allow anyone to stop and receive welcoming hospitality. Whilst giving them food and water, they would also strike up conversations with them, engaging with their thoughts and listening to theirs. Such discussions, so typically Jewish, are transformational in nature. They have the power to change how both parties see the world and create new connections.

I’m inspired by this and believe that organisations that are designed to create, build or strengthen community have a critical role to play over the coming years. We need to create more opportunities for people to become active members of communities. To build spaces where we know we are not alone, where we are loved and valued for who we are, and where we are offered ways to give to others. To create multiple entry points into meaningful Jewish conversations. We should encourage Jews of diverse backgrounds to connect with each other not only when we face external threats, but for positive reasons, to enrich each other’s hearts and minds, expressing their ideas, learning, shmoozing, exercising, and eating and drinking with one another. Our physical hub, the purpose-built Community Centre, serves to host such conversations and enable much-needed connections to be made.

During the pandemic period, too many people have felt so alone. For us to truly thrive and ensure we are part of the post-pandemic rebuilding efforts, we need to create opportunities for people to come together, connecting through conversation, to build community.

About the Author
Raymond is CEO of London Jewish community centre JW3
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