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“Twenty-five years ago, I would have been very pessimistic, but a corner has been turned,” said Geoffrey Alderman, an expert on British Jewry at the University of Buckingham. “There is no doubt that there is a cultural renaissance within Anglo Jewry at the moment.”
Exhibit A of the Anglo renaissance is Simonson’s own Limmud, which started 30 years ago as a professional forum for teachers and now draws thousands of participants to a Jewish learning festival each December.
Beyond that there is London’s Jewish Book Week, which grew from a small get-together into a nine-day festival with appearances by best-selling novelists held at the spacious Royal National Hotel. The U.K. Jewish Film Festival breaks attendance records annually, according to organizers.
And then there is the London Jewish Cultural Centre, a highbrow institution and lecture forum with an annual membership fee of $2,000 — meaning it caters to a more select clientele.
“There is scarcely a single British university that doesn’t offer at least one course related to Jewish studies,” Alderman said. “This is unprecedented.”
But while the proliferation of options suggests that British Jews have an appetite for cultural offerings, it also means JW3 will have some serious competition as it tries to inject itself into an already crammed Jewish calendar.
“We’ll have to wait and see how it goes with JW3, but it’s obvious that it only has a chance to succeed if it appeals to the widest possible audience,” Alderman said.
Simonson says his organization is committed to offering a diverse menu of programming. Visitors on Oct. 9, for example, will have a choice of 25 activities ranging from a macaroon baking class to a talk featuring author Thomas Harding and his cousin, BBC News director James Harding, about the capture of Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess.
Kevin Spacey, the Hollywood actor, is scheduled to make an appearance at the center later this year.
“Through JW3, we’re telling people who don’t go to shul or have non-Jewish partners to not disappear from the radar, not to be lost, but to put their toes in the water,” Simonson said. “Come and taste something Jewish that might excite them, that meets the other parts of their identity.”