I agree totally. I would like to avoid plywood. I am big into family and tradition. For instance my family has a rocking chair that has been in my family for at least 200 years. We have a picture of my great great grandmother in it! And this prayer bench is something I would like to leave for those that come behind me. It will be used in my ceremony and left at the foot of our bed. I am also letting the Spiritual leaders of the two families write prayers of blessing on the bottom unfinished section. So as you can see I dont mind putting the extra money in if necessary. I want it to be built to last.
I'm what you might call a traditional woodworker, and all for solid wood when it seems to be the best choice, but keep up with new ideas and remain open for suggestion. I'm bringing up the plywood issue just to give you some food for thought. A good hardwood plywood as in veneered face plywood fabricated with solid wood edges can be indistinguishable from solid wood. Used in conjunction with solid wood, like trim, you may not see a visual difference. It can be stained and finished just like solid wood. Your costs might be significantly less. What you will have is flat stock with no movement or cracking issues, and pieces not requiring glue-ups, providing a very consistent grain and color.
The only drawback is with heavily used or trafficked areas that might allow the veneer to be worn through. With ordinary use, plywoods like Oak, Maple, Walnut, Mahogany, Ash, and Cherry are used for interior furnishings like desks and tables (including tops), wall systems, and cabinet carcasses including shelving, with great results.