Thinking ahead

There was some very invigorating discussion over one Succot afternoon that forms the basis of this post.  We were talking about the Jewish Centre and how it could be that a facility this valuable was sitting empty over Yom Tov.  All the while the Jewish Centre could have been used to host activities to bring members of the community closer to the “peak season” of the Jewish religious calendar with overflow, introductory, unaffiliated and less intensive exposure to the festive events of Tishrei. 

Many decades ago, it was philanthorpists with an incredible sense of forsight that purchased land that now houses Carmel School, the Maurice Zeffert Home, Maccabi, and the Jewish Centre.  How many communities in the Jewish world have the luxury of such a large and strategically significant plot of land, that is debt free, so close to the centre of a major city?  Yet sections of this asset remain squandered, with no tangible current plans to redevelop this into a future modern and functional epi-centre of Jewish community life in Perth.    

Back a couple of years ago there was a group of people that started to discuss a number of “future vision” issues including poossible ways to revamp or redevelop the Jewish Centre.  The group went nowhere, but the fact that some people felt it necessary to get some discussion of this matter was an encouraging start. 

The ideas proposed were to create a Jewish museum, youth facilities, a larger function centre, and a cultural precinct.  Also, some space to cater for the growing Israeli population was considered worthy of further thought.

Our discussion last weekend took a different world view.  A cultural centre is well and good, but why not focus attention on where the real growth in Jewish life is – as a religious centre?  This is a concept that would not reject the cultural needs of the community.  In fact all aspects of cultural Judaism could be embraced, but within a framework that would be fully inclusive of the needs of a contemporary Jewish community that has an active Orthodox core.   

So here are some of the ideas.  First of all, there are a growing number of “Jewish resort” destinations in Australasia and around the world.  Peseach stays, conventions and convocations, learning events and seminars, are being hosted in holiday destinations such as the Gold Coast and Maryville.  Why not tap into this market by building a hotel style centre with conference and function facilities, a restaurant, pool, gym?  A type of Kimberley Gardens facility right in the heart of Jewish Perth could be developed with the raising of venture capital, and then contracted out to professional management.  A number of Eastern States holiday makers and event convenors would seriously consider a vacation to Perth if a facility such as this existed.  Perth would be on the international Jewish map too.  We would have a place for people to stay and a reason to promote “Jewish tourism”.  A tower block of residential units for the “nearly retired” could also be constructed for semi-permanent use on extended leases.

Another suggestion is to create a unique and modern Jewish womens precinct.  Complete with recreational facilities (gym and pool), a day spa and Mikveh, learning programs, and a range of facilities that are for use by women only, this would be a very unique and well utilised facility.  

With the right type of thinking, anything is possible.  Sadly for the past decade the Jewish Centre has been regarded by the community as a white elephant, not suitable for community functions and with no incentives or benefits returned to those who invest in membership.  Whilst some bold and respected efforts have been made to refurbish the facilities have been made in recent years, it may well be time to think big again.  We need a different style of building that can meet a different set of needs.  Be it for the youth, women, cultural Jews, religious Jews, Israeli Jews, Zionists, sports mad, elderly, secular, educationally focussed, culinary buffs, singles, arts lovers, gamblers, geneaogists, historians, perpetual whingers, or all of the above, the very many diverse needs of the community could be well served with a new future focussed community centre. 

Reality dictates that voluntary community management would doom this concept to failure.  Any future facility would need to be a privatised trading entity, with a user pays focus, and revenue streams that were sustainably secured by both residential and commercial tenents. 

Any takers?   Radical ideas perhaps, but not so unrealistic if the collective motivation of the community fell behind a proposal of this nature.