The business card he handed me a few weeks back was sleek, creative, different and expensive to produce. Just like the ultra-hip and glitzy premises I had been given a tour of earlier. He neither introduced himself as Rabbi; nor does his business card indicate such. The organization is identified as the Gaon Club; the tagline: where young Jews converge. And the web address lands you on the home page of Friends of Lubavitch UK.
The name on the card, Mendy Vogel.
You can imagine my surprise yesterday to come across a recent ruling by the London Beth Din:
“Two Lubavitch rabbis in London have been banned from using the name of the organization in their activities and forbidden from running any outreach programs.” The ruling comes amidst claims of ‘lavish and excessive expenditure’, ‘unconscionable conduct’ and ‘breaching their fiduciary responsibility’. (sources below)
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I spent a whirlwind few days earlier this month being introduced to the new and hip Jewish London. The previous night, I attended a Chanukah party at the recently opened and exciting Moishe House. The next afternoon, the Gaon Club.
Set in London’s bustling West End, in an exquisitely renovated and furnished brownstone-type building, the Gaon Club is Friends of Lubavitch UK’s latest and exciting new venture. Established as a social and educational center to cater to London’s 20-30 something young Jews, the building was purchased by Al-Jazeera to be used as their local media and broadcast center. Pressure from the nearby U.S. Embassy killed that plan and the space was acquired by three young, Jewish investment bankers. What follows, was the establishment of a posh British club-like space catering to those working in the local financial industry.
The public space is large with a library (which also serves as a self-serve Kosher cafeteria), a seating area and private conference room, available for rent. The furnishings, ultra-chic Italian leather chairs and custom made bookcases. Thick contemporary rugs and large abstract original paintings complete the decor. Oh yes, not to forget the huge wall mounted TV screen and the two Bloomberg Financial monitors opposite the main entrance. The place said success. Loudly.
Attending the opening ceremony, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, said: “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.”
But apparently all this came at a price: the diversion of a significant amount of revenue from the Lubavitch coffers forcing teachers and bank loans not to be paid.
So, did they over-reach? Was it nothing more than financial mismanagement? Or setting up a cushy job, and lifestyle, for oneself and family. The flip side of Mendy’s business card reads, “Where Two Jews Meet A Third Should Benefit”. How would you take this in light of what has transpired?
What is clear today is Lubavitch UK is trying to get their finances back on track. It is unclear whether the Gaon Club is open. All references (at the time of this post) appear to have been removed from the web site. Mendy Vogel, who promised to get back to me, has not.
The real disappointment is this was a great concept, attracting a large audience to various events. Hopefully, Lubavitch UK will find a way for it to continue.