Saturday, February 5, 2011

Netanya IKEA burned to the ground on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar

IKEA Netanya before Saturday's fire
On the first day of Chanukah, a fire raged through Israel's Carmel forest, destroying over 55,000 dunams of trees and taking 45 lives.

On Saturday, a fire broke out at Israel's Netanyahu IKEA store. No one was injured, as IKEA is closed on Shabbat (b"H). The entire store and all merchandise, however, burned to the ground. Damage was estimated at $100 million, and 400 Israelis were employed at the store.

The IKEA in Netanya was Israel's first IKEA store, and was the largest in Israel. There is another branch in Rishon L'Tziyon near Tel Aviv. In July, the Netanya IKEA lot was appraised at $52 million.

IKEA Founder's Nazi Roots? 

The founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, was exposeed by a Swiss paper in the mid-1990's for attending Nazi Party meetings in Sweden after WWII. Days before the Netanya store opened in 2000, the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Weekly reported:
Kamprad started Ikea as a 16-year-old in 1943, using his initials for the first two letters and the names of two small Swedish towns for the final two letters. The first deliveries were made by milk truck.

During the business' infancy, between 1945 and 1948, Kamprad attended several pro-Nazi meetings led by Swedish rightist Per Engdahl. The Stockholm newspaper Expressen uncovered Kamprad's name in the archives of Engdahl, who died in 1994.
Aware of the potential PR damage, Kamprad issued a letter of apology to IKEA employees and called himself 'naive'.

HBO's 'Dennis Miller Live' covered the story with the following joke, according to the J: "The founder of the Ikea furniture stores admitted to being a Nazi sympathizer during World War II. He went on to say that Ikea's original name was Mein Couch."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center  in Los Angeles criticized Kamprad, even after his 'apology':
"At a time when the rest of the world was walking and running away from Nazism and fascism, this young man was embracing it."
Joshua Bernstein, director of the ADL's Pacific Region, said the following:
"He should have known better. After all, this was occurring after World War II. The Nazi atrocities were documented and evident to everyone after the war...He has never made any comments as an adult that have been extremist in any way, shape or fashion. But on the other hand, neither did he go out of his way to be friendly toward the Jewish people, toward Jewish interests. And specifically he didn't do business with Israel at a time that would have made a difference."
Dov Rochman, manager of the Israeli company that bought franchise rights for the Netanya IKEA, made the case that Israel is a prime market for IKEA:
"Ikea is a concept, it's a style. It's a store that nobody in Israel has seen the likes of before. It will have a huge impact, because customers here are becoming more and more sophisticated and they will love the idea."

Yibaneh, Yibaneh...

Anyone who has walked into an IKEA knows the feeling: it is an architectural-consumerist masterpiece. There is an other-worldly quality about it. Israel has a lot of international chain stores, but IKEA was something else. Rochman was right, the IKEA phenomenon spread like wildfire in Israel. The store and the trip to the store was the epitome of Israel's strive for cosmopolitanism, which may not be problematic in itself, but is when juxtaposed with our complete dismissal of what we are in this land for. Israel has other, more important, and more essential things to build--the first of which is our own masterpiece, the source of our people's vitality and our spiritual gift to the world--the holy Third Temple on God's Holy Mountain, House of Prayer for all peoples, the dwelling place of the divine in the material world. May it be built speedily in our days.

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