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Building Blocks Workshops

Local children and their family members had some fun with plastic building blocks while learning about one of the oldest cities in the world.

Using 70,000 LEGO pieces on a 20-by-20-foot mat, members of Village Chabad in East Setauket created a replica of the Old City of Jerusalem Feb. 3. The LEGO model included many points of interest, such as the gate entrances to the city, the Tower of David, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and more.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen, from Village Chabad, said the goal of the program was for those involved to leave the event with an admiration for the holy city.

Village Chabad brought in architect Stephen Schwartz of New Jersey-based Building Blocks Workshops to lead the children, parents and grandparents in constructing the model. On the mat were lines to help guide the building efforts. While some sat on the mat constructing walls and towers, others on the sidelines started putting together the buildings, grabbing LEGO pieces from bins.

During the program, Schwartz was constantly engaged with the children and adults, directing them to the proper location if they went astray.

Cohen said Village Chabad had heard about Schwartz’s work from different schools and institutions. The architect has also offered several programs that focus on the historical buildings in Stony Brook for The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

Schwartz said he has been conducting the LEGO projects for 25 years. It began when his daughter, an elementary school teacher in the Bronx, asked him to show her second-graders how a city is designed.

“When I saw that with LEGO you could teach second-graders about zoning, and they understood it, I saw that this was an amazing teaching tool,” he said.

Schwartz said in the past he has worked with LEGO pieces for different Jewish history programs, including Jerusalem, Masada, the Warsaw Ghetto and the world’s tallest LEGO menorah.

The architect said the projects are usually completed in two hours due to working around a school’s schedule. The Village Chabad program ran from 4:30 to around 6:30. Schwartz said after every program he aims for a 15-minute educational tour.

“I am an architect, so everything is exactly to scale,” Schwartz said. “The program gives people a ‘visual image’ of the shape and location of all the important elements in and around Jerusalem. It is a much more dynamic way to teach than just looking in a book or on a screen.”

Smithtown resident Gail Declue said she had no idea what to expect when she arrived for the build.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “The kids are really involved, and they are going to learn a lot about what Jerusalem looks like without even going.”

Elina Rukhlin, also of Smithtown, said her 10-year-old son was among the children building with LEGO pieces, and the family had traveled to Israel last year.

“My son is actually saying I remember we went to the Tower of David light show,” she said. “So, it’s really cool to be able to look back on our experience and then to see this, because we were actually there.”