Kibbutz Lavi, whose founders included children evacuated from Germany to the United Kingdom as part of the Kindertransport program before the Holocaust, has become the main provider worldwide of furniture for synagogues.
The community, in the lower Galilee, has exported its products to over 6,000 synagogues in 70 countries and has made furniture for most synagogues in Israel.
“I estimate that today close to a million people are sitting on our furniture,” said Micha Oberman, CEO of Lavi Furniture Industries, in an interview with Channel 13 broadcast on Sunday.
The business started when the fledgling kibbutz turned to its own carpenters for help setting up its first synagogue in 1950. It was during a period of austerity in Israel and the kibbutz could not afford to buy furniture. Soon after Lavi set up its synagogue, nearby communities started sending in orders.
“They invested everything they had and saved up themselves everything possible so that they would have the capital they needed to establish the factory, even though they didn’t have much,” Oberman said.
Many of the founders of the kibbutz were smuggled from mainland Europe and lost their parents in World War II, arriving in Israel without family.
“In the group that founded the kibbutz were two carpenters. They dreamed that it would become a furniture factory which would be known worldwide,” said Shila Kritzler, one of the kibbutz’s founding members, said in the TV report.
Today the factory produces arks for Torah scrolls in different styles, including Ashkenazi and Sephardic styles.
Almost 80 years after a synagogue in the city of Jaslo, Poland, was burned by the Nazis, the factory made a reproduction of its interior for a synagogue in Toronto, Canada, based on surviving photographs.
The goal, Oberman said, was “a message that we, despite what happened in the past, we pass a message to the younger generation that we need to know our history, so that we won’t go back to how it was.”