Local families sprawled themselves across the gym floor at the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre on Sunday morning. No, they weren’t doing yoga or playing floor hockey, they were building a replica of the city of Jerusalem — out of Lego's.
The program, organized by the Centre’s nursery school, was designed to introduce the religious city to younger children, using the popular toy as a vehicle.
“I wanted the children to have a better understanding of what it’s like to be in Israel,” nursery school Director Cheryl Karp said. “Being in the United States, I know that a lot of our children have never traveled to Israel. I think they need to know what Israel is all about and have a stronger connection with their own Judaism.”
Steven Schwartz, an architect with more than 40 years of experience, ran the program by aiding the community construct the city from scratch.
Schwartz laid down a large drawing depicting a scale model of Jerusalem on the gym floor. Thirty-five buildings were constructed out of 50,000 Lego's. Each group built select parts of the city. Once the constructions were complete, the architect gave the crowd a “tour,” using the three dimensional structure as a guide.
“The model is something that they can visualize,” Schwartz said. “I’m told many times that the kids are still talking about it four years later. When they build something and you talk to them about it, they absorb everything. It’s a great way to get their attention, let them have fun, and actually learn something.”
Schwartz has been hosting the Lego architecture program for the past 12 years. The idea came to him after his daughter, an elementary school teacher, invited him to speak to her class about city design.
“When I saw that you could teach second graders about city planning with Lego's, then I knew I had something,” Schwartz said.
The architect also helps construct Lego models of Vatican City and the Warsaw Ghetto for different groups around the tri-state.
If Sunday’s program was any indication, Schwartz’s programs are very popular. The morning saw a wide variety of ages get in on the construction.
“I thought the program was incredible,” Karp said. “It was especially wonderful because it was a mixture of both the young and old generations. We had babies, nursery school children, religious school children, our youth group, and our clergy. What else could you want?”