By Jessica Mendoza-Roth
In 2006, I was privileged to visit the Jewish Community Centre in Mexico City as part of the AUJS Leadership Development Program. It was so impressive to walk into the Deportivo Centre and witness such a bustling hub for Jewish communal life. I saw the tremendous benefits of a physical Jewish community centre: a huge range of after school activities for kids, exciting young adult programming, endless sport options, a massive gym and groups of bridge-playing retirees. It truly felt like a buzzing intergenerational community in action. When they asked me about a similar centre in Sydney, I shared the remarkable history of the Hakoah Club at its former home on Hall Street, Bondi, but it didn’t quite compare.
The model of Jewish Community Centres (JCCs) – a safe and secure central hub from which Jewish life can flourish – has become a cornerstone of many Jewish communities around the world. There are currently hundreds of JCCs worldwide keenly focused on enriching Jewish life through health, fitness, culture, arts and innovative engagement programs, while being inclusive and welcoming, free from particular ideologies or religious streams.
When I heard about the vision for the future of Hakoah at White City at a presentation in late 2019, I was delighted that we could potentially have our own JCC in Sydney. In normal (non-COVID) times, my husband and I drive our son to soccer in one part of Sydney, and our daughter to ballet in another. What will we do when child #3 arrives?! As many working parents of young children will appreciate, there is currently no central place for Jewish school holiday day camps for young children. Imagine if in one day they could do morning gymnastics and art, have Israeli food for lunch and play soccer and swim in the afternoon. I could see the potential for Hakoah – a single destination where my kids could do their activities, while my husband and I go to the gym and have coffee with friends. Hakoah in Hebrew means the Strength, and I believe that this project is going to strengthen our community and strengthen Jewish identity for generations to come.
I joined the Hakoah Club board almost 18 months ago, and it has been a privilege to work closely with such a dedicated and talented volunteer board and a small group of committed staff to help bring this bold project to life. As you could see from the front page of last week’s AJN, we have received judgment from the Land and Environment Court endorsing the final Development Consent and conditions enabling us to proceed with construction of the new Hakoah Club.
We have never been closer to making the dream of a Sydney JCC a reality. We have received commitments from over 175 major donors in the Jewish community, as well as a generous government grant. Our $65m target is in reach once we complete major donor commitments and the community buys membership. We have developed a business model that does not require Hakoah to ask donors for more philanthropy. In addition to community and social returns, the business model is forecast to generate a surplus that will be reinvested to support vibrant Jewish community life. We have selected a preferred builder who will be officially engaged soon. Arnold Bloch Leibler have been generously supporting the project pro bono on a range of legal matters. We have set up a new not-for-profit which is intended to own the land to keep it in the Jewish community in perpetuity. We have been working collaboratively with a number of community organisations to ensure that Hakoah will have a range of high quality mission-driven programming. Hakoah intends to provide a platform and venue for existing community organisations to use, and we invite you to join us to discuss how you might want to use the wide range of spaces and facilities at White City.
We have been working diligently behind the scenes while other organisations working on the front line of this pandemic have raised much needed funds. Until we received development consent and were confident in our ability to deliver this remarkable project, we have not marketed the project to the Jewish community. Now that we have satisfied this important condition, we are getting ready to finally launch our website and share our vision with the entire community, and to ask for the support of the community to become members of Hakoah. We need the whole community to show that you want the project and will pre-pay for membership.
I invite you to join with me in dreaming of the day after this crisis. The day when our kids can go back to school, when we can hug our parents and grandparents again, when we can do a gym workout with real people, and sit down for a cafe brunch. All those things we previously took for granted and now feel are so precious. Celebrating life’s milestones in real life is much more meaningful than waving to a grid of faces on Zoom.
The current lockdown has made me realise that community is more important than ever; connection, belonging, a support network, and meaningful experiences with those we love. These are the values that underpin Hakoah at White City, and it’s what drives me to be a proud supporter of this project.
Imagine a vibrant communal home where we can all be together in person, doing things that we love, with the people whom we love. I also look forward to many international guests visiting Sydney and making sure that Hakoah is their first stop for all things Jewish culture, art, sport, food and fun.
While coming together with our loved ones and community is impossible right now – dreaming about it is not. We are an amazing community and we can make the bold vision of Hakoah at White City a reality – commencing construction is in sight.
Jessica Mendoza-Roth is a Director of the Hakoah Club, Sydney Jewish Community Centre and the Founder & Director of the Social Impact Hub.