On the seventh day of Hanukka, architect Stephen W. Schwartz led more than 100 hard-working volunteers at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County in the building of a 13-and-a-half-foot menora. The assembled tower and hanukkia reached almost to the ceiling of the Marlboro school’s gymnasium.
Students, parents, school faculty and staff, and guests from throughout the community were all part of the construction team. The structure, built entirely of LEGO blocks, went up and came down in a span of two hours.
Oshra Gil, who worked alongside her sons, Jacob, a first-grader, and Adam, a pre-K student, said, “The looks on the children’s faces when their LEGO masterpieces came together was priceless. This is the joy of Hanukka.”
“I was pleasantly surprised at the large turnout of parents and grandparents,” said Nathan Kahn, an SSDS parent. “The presence of several rabbis from the community, leading Hanukka songs, made it a very festive event — one that I think the kids will remember fondly when they look back on their Schechter years in the future.”
Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun of Congregation Torat El in Oakhurst also led the volunteers in singing Hanukka songs.
Schwartz, 71, an AIA-credentialed architect with offices in Livingston, is no stranger to building Jewish-themed structures out of LEGOs. Under the name Building Blocks Workshops LLC, he conducts about 50 such events a year, constructing ancient Jerusalem, Masada, and the Warsaw Ghetto out of LEGOs.
Two years ago, he designed and built a temple for both Jews and Muslims. The structure, created at Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro and cosponsored by Masjid Al-Amaan, The Islamic Society of Monmouth County in Middletown, featured a Courtyard of Abraham, the patriarch common to both faiths.
“Hanukka is the busiest time of the year for us,” Schwartz told NJJN in a phone interview. “This season we put up more than a dozen menoras all over the tri-state area.”
In Schwartz’s view, the principal benefit of his projects is to demonstrate for youngsters how important teamwork can be. “When we begin a commission,” he said, “we divide into small groups. Each team creates a module that will fit into the finished structure. If someone were to try this on his or her own, it would take weeks or even months.”
In addition to SSDS, cosponsors of the program were Jewish Federation of Monmouth County (through an AdVenture Grant), Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, Marlboro Jewish Center, Temple Beth Ahm of Aberdeen, Congregation Torat El in Oakhurst, and Congregation B’nei Israel in Toms River.
The most dramatic moment in each Hanukka project, said Schwartz, is when he climbs a 12-foot ladder carrying the actual menora, which he then places atop the tower. “It couldn’t have gone more smoothly than it did at SSDS,” he said.