The JW3 centre in Finchley Road has become a pinnacle of Jewish culture and conversation in the last few years, since its opening in October 2013. The centre hosts everything from film events to talks to culinary cultural extravaganzas, and is the first of its kind in London.

Now they have placed Rachel Grunwald, the new programme director, at its helm in deciding what events and exhibitions the people will have the pleasure of being part of.

I had the chance to discuss a few things with Rachel and work out her plans for JW3.

Can you tell me some background information about yourself?

I'm a Londoner. I grew up not far from JW3, between Cricklewood and West Hampstead, and I went to school in Willesden and Edgware. I went to university in Cambridge and then studied at RADA. I'm 37, and I live with my husband and children in Finchley.

Who inspired you to get involved in theatre and theatre direction?

I'm not sure that it was any one person who inspired me. My parents used to take us to the theatre – pantomime every year, musicals for birthday outings and, when we got older, summer shows such as A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park.

When I was little my siblings and I used to stage shows for the family in our bedrooms (and steal fruit from the kitchen to sell in the interval). Most children love make-believe I suppose, but I never grew out of it.

When I directed my first successful show at university and saw crowds of people snaking round the corner to get a ticket I thought maybe I can actually carry on doing this.

Where did you career start?

I cut my teeth working with students at university, took a couple of years to learn my craft by directing a variety of different forms of theatre and opera in London and Edinburgh, and then went to train as one of two students on the first year of a new directors course at RADA, which was wonderful.

Initially I supported myself with a variety of jobs ranging from babysitting to working on reception desks, and then I took on the role of director of community development at The Hampstead Synagogue in West Hampstead – an experience which laid down many of the skills I’ll need for working at JW3.

I worked as for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon and on tour of the UK, for the Almeida Theatre in London, and I started teaching at the Shakespeare Birthplace Institute in Stratford as a guest lecturer. I was also working with a theatre company called SPID based on a housing estate in West London, directing promenade and immersive new shows in non-theatre spaces.

Our work there was so successful the council invited us to take up residence, and the local children and teenagers started banging on the windows to find out what was going on so we started a youth theatre.

What have been your highlights?

I’ve loved directing new plays by first-time writers for companies like HighTide and premieres for writers like Leon Fleming who go on to develop their careers as I watch.

Working with Nicolas Kent and Indhu Rubasingham on the jaw-dropping cycle of new plays, The Great Game: Afghanistan at the Tricycle Theatre was a once in a lifetime experience. I got to learn from Nick and Indhu and direct world premieres myself.

The Great Game went on tour of the USA and played a command performance for Pentagon staff. That gave me a sense of the hugely important impact arts can have on the national conversation – and how sometimes it’s artists who are needed to help societies come to terms with major challenges they are facing.

A number of the productions you’ve worked on have spotlighted human rights issues and international crises, why has this been a focus in your career and do you hope to continue in this vein at JW3?

I’m just interested in the way human beings treat one another. I’m interested in this on the intimate, personal level, and also on the epic scale. The human rights issues and crises you mention are the fault lines where the extremes of this behaviour come to the fore. Also, like many other Jewish people, I was brought up with the guiding principle of Tikkum Olam – healing a fractured world - and with the experience of the holocaust and the imperative to make ‘never again’ mean ‘never again’ for all peoples.

When I’m directing theatre, I’m not directly campaigning for anything, just choosing stories which open people’s eyes to a new way of thinking or seeing others and questioning how we treat one another. In other areas of my experience I’ve used the arts to make a more direct impact, such as collaborating with artists, politicians, NGOs, charities and community groups to inspire citizens to take action about the crisis in Darfur – which as at its most public in 2006-8 but has by no means passed now.

Why have you decided to work with the JW3 and what attracted you to this role?

I wanted to work with JW3 because I think that what it stands for - connecting and uniting people, celebrating difference in the knowledge that what binds us together is more powerful, and providing a myriad of diverse ways for people to enrich their lives and deepen their understanding of themselves and others - is just so important.

London needs these kinds of non-denominational, non-political spaces where different cultures can express themselves with pride and invite others in for mutual education.

The connections made in spaces like JW3 help build resilience between and within communities at times when relations can get brittle. Every community should have a JW3!

As for the role, it brings together many of the passions and skills I've developed on my work to date. In some ways, leading a team of talented people (and they are very talented!) to produce a high quality product which responds to the lives, heritage and future challenges of a diverse audience is very close to my work as a director. In other ways it's a big new challenge. It's a wonderful position to be in and I'm over the moon that JW3 chose to trust me in the role.

What’s ahead for JW3 with yourself at the helm of the programming and what are you most excited about tackling in this role?

I think exciting times are ahead for JW3, and that was true even before I took the helm. My predecessor Colin Bulka built up a fabulous programming team with a wealth of experience and a range of expert knowledge.

I'm looking forward to developing our partnerships with other organisations and to extending our reach to new audiences. There is so much to Jewish identity, and so much richness in Jewish heritage - and so much to learn from the experiences of other communities. A major part of my role will be ensuring that our programme always strives to meet this challenge.

I'd like us to contribute to the national conversation too. With the depth of academic, charitable and professional expertise in the Jewish community, combined with our cultural and scriptural heritage, our practical resources and our programming expertise, I'd like to think that there are issues - such as social care for example - that we could look at insightfully through a Jewish lens and ask some useful questions about.

What are some of your favourite productions you have seen in recent years?

I recently saw a new one-man musical called The Superhero at Southwark, about a father fighting for custody of his daughter. I cried and cried! That kind of emotional connection to a story is very hard to achieve, and I love it when I walk out of a show so involved in the lives of other people that I'm not analysing the lighting or the performances or any of the other aspects of a production which can make going to the theatre a bit like a busman's holiday for a theatre director.

And JW3 had a fabulous piece on a few weeks ago by the Iraqi writer Hassan Abdulrazzak, called 'Love Bombs and Apples' which I can't recommend highly enough. It's in Edinburgh at the moment.