London, England — Al Jazeera bought the building for its London operations base. In a providential turn of events, the space was then acquired for Lubavitch of UK, to be used for educational and social activities of this city’s Jewish population. Earlier today, the new center was formally opened by Great Britain’s Chief Rabbi.
“This is the one Jewish space in the midst of the city, that is not a synagogue, that is here for you to relax, unwind, refresh physically and spiritually,” said the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, as he opened Friends of Lubavitch UK’s Gaon Club in London’s West End today.
The premises were originally bought by Arab television network Al Jazeera to act as its London operations base but permission to broadcast from the site was denied and the building, a stone’s throw from Bond Street tube station, was subsequently acquired by Friends of Lubavitch UK, to be used as a recreation, social and learning centre for young people.
A crowd of 500 young people attended the official opening at the new venue, a showing, “remarkable under any circumstances but even more so considering that Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea are all playing in London tonight,” remarked Dr Sam Peltz, Friends of Lubavitch UK’s honorary president.
The Chief Rabbi told the crowd that Gaon means ‘pride’ and observed that in his experience, the non-Jewish world respects Jews who respect Judaism and are embarrassed by those who are embarrassed by their Judaism “and therefore I hope this center will really bring Gaon – will make everyone who comes here enjoy Judaism but above all, walk tall with Jewish pride.”
The center is an addition to the 2,200 Chabad centers worldwide, and its motto is a phrase, often repeated by the late Lubavitch Rebbe, which states that “where two Jews meet, a third should benefit.” That concept is at the core of Friends of Lubavitch UK, which has already engaged more than 3,000 young Jewish people in Jewish activities such as learning, guidance, social events and monthly Friday night Shabbat dinners for over 350 young people each time.
“We are delighted with the turnout and we feel that the overwhelming response reflects the huge demand which the Gaon Club will be meeting,” said Rabbi Yosef Vogel, co-director of the center.
That feeling was seconded by guests Nora Ajzen and Tuvi Keinan: “The Gaon Club is going to be more than an education and outreach center – it’s going to be a source of enrichment for the community as a whole and a space to be proud of,” said Nora. Tuvi Keinan reflected on Friends of Lubavitch UK’s special appeal to a diverse international as well as a domestic crowd: “Bringing together Jews from all over the world is one of the things at which Chabad excels.”