When Rabbi Francine Roston of Congregation Beth El encounters b’nei mitzva students in search of a mitzva project, she asks them two questions: What do they love doing, and what problem do they see in the world?
For Kalman Carmel, an eighth-grader from Maplewood, the first answer was clear: He loves building with Legos and doing all kinds of construction projects.
“I might study engineering, like my dad,” he told NJ Jewish News, chatting during a special construction event he helped organize at the South Orange synagogue on Sept. 9.
With help from his parents, Stephanie and Matt, and his 16-year-old sister Becca, Kalman invited families to join them for a Lego fund-raiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Working under the guidance of Stephen Schwartz — a Livingston architect who conducts Lego educational projects all over the country — 25 “teams” designed and erected models of windmills out of 60,000 of the colorful plastic bricks.
With participants making donations of $50 or more, the event raised $4,000 for research into the chronic lung disease.
It was the culmination of Kalman’s mitzva project, which arose after Roston put him in touch with Schwartz. “Kalman’s a very special child,” Roston said. “He is so warm and helpful with the little kids. And I thought he and Stephen would work well together.”
Most of Schwartz’s Building Blocks Workshop programs are held at synagogues and are designed to raise awareness of Jewish history and tradition by focusing on such sites as, to give two frequent examples, the Warsaw Ghetto or Jerusalem. More recently, Schwartz has led Lego windmill-building programs at schools to raise awareness of wind power, and to raise funds for the CFF, whose slogan is “Blow Away Cystic Fibrosis.”
Kalman ended up assisting Schwartz at eight of those programs around the region. Schwartz said he was “a terrific young man and interacts with the participants of our program in a very nice way.”
“Sometimes there are a lot of little children, and I’d help them work out what to do,” Kalman explained, taking a break on Sunday from the elaborate windmill he and his friends Ian Hicks and Eve Greenberg were erecting.
Kalman, whose bar mitzva was Sept. 15, said he was pleased with the outcome. “It was fun,” he declared, as he and his fellow builders plunged into the apparently equally enjoyable task of demolishing their creations.