When Maurice Aiken’s shul in Tampa, Florida, outgrew its original building and the High Holiday family services were moved into an adjacent church facility, Aiken became concerned that the new facility had no holy ark to hold the congregation’s Torah scrolls. Aiken, a longtime Pikesville podiatrist and Glyndon resident had relocated his family and his practice to Dunedin, Florida, in 2015, and joined Temple Ahavat Shalom.
“They were bringing the Torahs over and placing them on a table at the front and covering it with a cloth,” Aiken said. “But there was no ark or anything there to protect the Torahs.”
So last year at the end of holiday services he said, “You need an ark.” Synagogue leaders agreed — their old one had fallen apart.
“But it needed to be able to fit through the doors and it needed to be mobile, to move from the synagogue next door when necessary,” Aiken said. “And I wanted it to be whimsical and colorful, and I wanted it to have a Judaica feel.”
Aiken got to work, researching and designing an ark that would be large enough to hold the scrolls and also portable. He chose the Tree of Life to carve into the ark doors. His wife, children and sister jumped in to help with decorative, colorful painting and his mother fashioned velvet drapes for the ark’s interior. LED lighting was added to the ark, inside and out.
A self-taught carpenter who had built a deck and gazebo at his Glyndon home, Aiken’s ark was his first attempt at furniture-making. He surprised even himself with the results.
“It turned out much better than I had anticipated,” he said. “It gave focus to the services, which really didn’t have a focus at the front, of an ark, which everyone is used to. It’s the first thing you look up to. That’s where the most important thing is stored in every synagogue. It didn’t have that level of decorum and now it does. That felt great.”