December 20, 2007

Only in Israel ...

I paid a visit to Israel's branch of IKEA today, in Netanya.

Around 2 o'clock someone asked me if I would like to join a
minyan for Mincha. Thinking that someone had to say Kaddish I followed him to what I expected to be a quiet corner of the store or the back of the coffee shop.

Instead he led me down the back stairs and into a shelter which - I was astonished to see - had been converted into a beautiful 50-seater synagogue.

Complete with a screened-off area for women and modest library, it is used by IKEA employees for prayers 3 times a day and has a classic ark and curtain dedicated by the Bronfman family - owners of Israel's IKEA franchise.

Coming from a cold English diaspora, I found this a truly heartwarming sight. But also with a tinge of irony.

Not many years ago a scandal broke about the IKEA founder's anti-Semitic roots. I can't read Swedish, but it is said that in his official biography Ingvar Kamprad (he's the IK) openly accused his father of being anti-Semitic and wondered when he might be absolved for his own "youthful sins" of association with racist figures whose views he has since repudiated.

Perhaps, with each minyan, the Bronfman family is unwittingly helping IK's family along the path of absolution.

PS: In case you were wondering, the shul is furnished not by IKEA but by the world-beating synagogue furnishers of Kibbutz Lavie. That way the shul will surely outlast anything its worshippers may sell upstairs.

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