Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Four Jews meet on Sunday for bagels and lox. The synagogue in Natick, Massachusetts has run out of seating for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. So the four build the religious furniture needed for the tent service.
The following year they receive a second request for woodworking. More bagels and lox. They build an enclosure, called an ark, for Hebrew Torah scrolls. Someone names them the Ark Builders. They start meeting every Sunday looking for new woodworking projects. More members, more bagels and lox. Almost all the projects involve impossibly curved surfaces made out of wacky wood, plywood that bends.
That was 29 years ago and the aging group (most are in their 70's) is still together. After dozens of projects, including two that totally rebuilt their synagogue's Sanctuary, they took their woodworking tools on the road, renovating five low-income homes for the local Housing Authority and building a table for the Presbyterian Church, a reception desk for a food pantry and a playhouse/castle for the Children's Library.
The story behind the bagels, lox, Wacky Wood and worship through woodworking is revealed in a tell-all book due out at Thanksgiving 2014. Ark Builders, with a foreword by Rabbi Harold Kushner (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) shows, through photographs and detailed mechanical drawings, how the elegant religious furniture was designed, and has profiles of the largely untrained members who have noshed, kibitzed, sawed, glued, sanded, and lacquered their way into the hearts of their congregation and their community.