Parrish resident Dr. Steve Hiller built an Aron Kodesh for the school’s new sanctuary.
(June 10, 2022) Great work can have small beginnings. For some, that’s a proverbial truth. For Parrish resident Dr. Steve Hiller, it’s a personal experience. The great work he recently created began with a simple request. He was asked if he could build an “Aron Kodesh” for Community Day School’s new sanctuary. Aron Kodesh means “holy ark” In Hebrew—an ornamental chamber for the Torah scrolls. A simple object with a holy purpose.
For Dr. Hiller, a retired physician, woodworking was his only hobby, not a profession. But his father, Milton Hiller was a machinist who poured his artistry into carpentry in his spare time. His work in the machine shop paid the bills. His woodwork at home was a labor of love.
“I watched my father constantly creating with his hands,” Dr. Hiller recalls. “He built everything inside our house, and he taught me his skills from the time I was a toddler. Following in my father’s footsteps, I came to love working with wood. I wound up becoming a physician. But I never lost the love for carpentry that he’d taught me.”
Dr. Hiller soon found out that building a holy object would take more research than his other projects.
“I discovered considerable differences for the Aron Kodesh from typical cabinets,” he says. “To create its external ornamentation, this ark requires 58 Hebrew characters. I had to learn how to cut each one on a scroll saw — an entirely new experience. I wound up sanding the edges with nail files and using sharp chisels to create the appropriate indentations between the letters. This was very delicate work. I had to use magnifying eye loupes to see what I was doing.”
The project took 11 long months to complete. Dr. Hiller spent 60 hours alone simply crafting the letters of the Ten Commandments.
But there was far more to it than woodwork.
For Dr. Hiller, what began as a carpentry project turned into a spiritual awakening—an awakening that connected him to the source of his woodworking skills—his father, Milton Hiller.
Dr. Hiller explains that his father had been a talented woodworker and artist. Milton had initially attended NYU with the hopes to become an engineer, but the Depression cut his education short because he had to help support his parents. So, Milton became a machinist instead. Even so, he poured his artistry into woodwork and carpentry in his spare time. His work in the machine shop paid the bills. His woodwork at home was a labor of love.
“I watched my father constantly creating with his hands,” Dr. Hiller recalls. “He built everything inside our house, and he taught me his skills from the time I was very young. Following in my father’s footsteps, I came to love working with wood. I wound up becoming a physician. But I never lost the love he’d taught me.”
Dr. Hiller’s painstaking work on the Aron Kodesh was a constant reminder of his father. It was also a way to honor him. His work on this project also strengthened his faith.
“I feel I’ve had a long distance relationship with God,” Dr. Hiller says. “I’ve always believed in God—but hadn’t been very religious. As I was creating the Aron Kodesh, I started feeling a deeper connection to God; it was a very spiritual experience.”
Dr. Hiller’s creation is stunning. The ark is 5 feet, 3 inches tall by 50 inches wide—created with walnut wood that he stained with a deep red mahogany. He’s delighted to gift it to Community Day School but says that creating it was “a gift of God to me. It was a holy experience. And it also brought me closer to my father in a way I never thought possible.”
Dan Ceaser, CDS’s Head of School, says that, thanks to Steve Hiller, and the Rosin Family who gave a five-year gift to Community Day School, and others, the sanctuary has “transformed into a treasured space for not only our students but the community at large. Here, we hold religious, spiritual, and educational classes, including Jewish culture, religion, choral music, leadership, astronomy, and even yoga. As a sacred space it’s also a constant reminder of our goal to create an inclusive campus culture where students of diverse backgrounds, affiliations, and practice feel comfortable exploring their own connection to Judaism. We welcome our community to witness the joy and wonder that fill our halls, walls, and beyond.”
About Community Day School
The mission of the Hershorin Schiff Community Day School, which serves students in preschool through eighth grade, is to impact the world by creating a community where children of all faiths demonstrate integrity, academic excellence, and a desire to improve the world. Community Day offers a rigorous, project-based academic program in a diverse and vibrant learning environment rooted in the Jewish values of honesty, integrity, mutual trust and respect. For more information, visit communityday.org or call (941) 552-2770.