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Merrick temple invites families to build menorah with 70,000 Legos

Stephen Schwartz, a New Jersey architect, coordinated the

Stephen Schwartz, a New Jersey architect, coordinated the building of a 12-foot Lego menorah at the Westchester Reform Temple earlier this month, and will do a similar project at Temple Israel of South Merrick. (Nov. 17, 2013) Credit: Handout

Architect Stephen Schwartz is looking to recruit scores of builders for a special job he has planned for this Sunday in Merrick. Schwartz, 71, of Livingston, N.J., will be bringing 70,000 Lego pieces to Temple Israel of South Merrick to construct a giant Hanukkah menorah with the help of local families.

“The beauty of the program is that each family works as a little team with parents or grandparents and children,” said Schwartz, who has more than 40 years of experience as an architect. “We’ve had people 90 years old and 4 years old working on this.”

Since creating Building Blocks Workshops four years ago, Schwartz has traveled from Boston to Baltimore and throughout the tri-state area using Legos to teach lessons on history, geography, religion and the value of teamwork.

Earlier this month, he worked with students at a school in Williston Park to build a replica of the Warsaw Ghetto, where German Nazis forced Polish Jews to live during the 1940s. Thousands died there, and many more were deported to a killing center in Treblinka. After the students finished constructing the project, they listened to stories from a 90-year-old survivor.

“Building with Legos is a great way to get inside kids’ heads and get them to listen intently,” he said.

On Sunday, Schwartz will ask families to each create a section of a menorah, which he expects will be at least 12 feet tall. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., each group will be given a template and will have about an hour to build their section using whatever Lego pieces they desire.

“We tell them you’re here to have a good time, so you can make it as whimsical as you want,” he said.

Then, Schwartz will assemble the parts together, climb a ladder and attach the top of the menorah, which he pre-assembled himself. Once it’s complete, he plans to light all nine candles to kick off Hanukkah.

Curtis Izen, a South Merrick resident who sits on the board of directors for the temple, said in the past the temple has celebrated the start of Hanukkah on a much smaller scale.

“Usually we just keep it among the temple members and run something like Bingo,” he said.

Izen, 49, said this event will be open to nonmembers, too. There will also be live music, latkes, jelly doughnuts and raffles.

“This was a good way of bringing a little excitement and camaraderie back to the temple, and to try to get people who aren’t involved in the temple to get a little more engaged,” he said.

Although the menorah will be disassembled at the end of the night, Schwartz said the lessons that adults and kids will leave with are lasting.

“We are able to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time,” he said. “It’s a good example of what happens when people work together.”

Temple Israel of South Merrick is located at 2655 Clubhouse Rd. in Merrick.

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