Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 10 December 2010 00:00
There are many ways to celebrate Hanukkah; lighting the candles, exchanging gifts and chocolate coins, cooking and eating delicious potato latkes, and so on. However, most people do not build gargantuan, 13.6 foot Menorahs out of 60,000 Lego building blocks as part of their typical holiday routine. However, if the excited students at Solomon Schechter Day School (SSDS) in Jericho have anything to say about it, maybe more people should.
On Dec. 6, the students of SSDS built “The World’s Tallest Lego Menorah,” when Building Blocks Workshop LLC visited the school to teach the children an important lesson about teamwork. The entire student body was divided into 50 teams of four students each, who all worked for two hours to assemble the giant structure, with the help of 16 parent volunteers. Late in the process, when the top of the Menorah was put onto the base, the children let out a huge cheer.
Run by architect Steven W. Schwartz of Livingston, NJ, Building Blocks Workshops LLC conducts programs using Lego-brand building blocks to teach specific subjects in Jewish and architectural history for children and parents. While the intent of the Menorah project in particular is mainly to give children a very hands-on lesson in teamwork within the framework of Hanukkah, other workshops have a stronger historical component; the children can build models of Jerusalem, Masada, and the Third Temple, among other subjects. The workshops all take two hours in total, to keep from overtaxing the children’s attention spans.
“We do around 50 programs a year,” said Schwartz. “It’s very exciting for children…I have some schools tell me ‘you know, you were here 3-4 years ago and the kids are still talking about it.’”
The event was sponsored by the SSDS Parent Association, who found out about Building Blocks Workshop LLC through Debbie Katz, event co-chair, who discovered Schwartz’s workshops through her local synagogue. Intrigued, the parent association collected funds to bring the Menorah project to their school, largely thanks to the efforts of Katz, fellow event co-chair Genia Taub, and parent association co-presidents Debbie Gubin and Jan Rogers. The parents saw the project as an invaluable opportunity to teach the kids an important lesson in a very memorable way, and besides, “Who doesn’t love Lego?” said Taub.
Fortunately, the children of SSDS proved that they were up to the task, displaying great teamwork that impressed Schwartz. “This school is fabulous, we will come back any time,” said Schwartz.
One of the things Schwartz said he might do on a return visit to SSDS is the Warsaw Ghetto program, where, after building a 400-square foot model of the ghetto, Schwartz walks through the model with Warsaw Ghetto survivor Nessa Ben Asher, a program Building Blocks Workshops LLC is particularly proud of.
Still, with the future up in the air, as the parents and administrators of SSDS have not decided yet whether or not to try another workshop or make the giant menorah project an annual tradition at the school, the children can take pride in what they’ve already accomplished. “This is what we mean when we say there’s no “I” in team,” said Dr. Cindy Dolgan, principle of SSDS, as the proud students admired the towering, colorful Menorah.
The event concluded with the ceremonial lighting of the candles and singing the two Hannukah brachot (prayers) as well as the Hebrew poem Ma’oz Tzur.
For more information about Building Blocks Workshop, visit their website at www.buildingblocksworkshops.com.