404 IDF soldier Lego minifig by JBrick. Photo: JBrick

Published on March 23rd, 2015 | by Ido Kenan


Let My People Lego!

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of Lego and Hebrew letter stickers. Yitzy Kasowitz, a Lubavitcher from Saint Paul, Minnesota, creates Jewish themed Lego sets – the aforementioned dreidel, a Tzedakah box, a Menorah, an IDF soldier and a Passover Seder Plate. Now he’s crowdsourcing turning his small scale side project into a business.

“There was a Lego mosaic at one of our museums”, Kasowitz tells me in a phone interview from his home. At that exhibition he met someone from Brickmania Toyworks, a toy store which specializes in custom Lego sets in subjects including medieval and renaissance castles and classic and modern warfare. Kasowitz ended up landing a job there as an expert Lego builder, in turn getting his own creations featured in museums.

Last December, Kasowitz released his first Jewish set of two Menorahs and a dreidel, in time for Hanukkah. At about $40 a box, the sets sold out within a week, and Kasowitz realized he was onto something. He turned to Jewish crowdsourcing site Jewcer to finance JBrick, the company he established for his Jewish themed sets. “Am I dreaming? Jewish-themed LEGO sets?”, The Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik wrote on her official Facebook page, “I can get behind this Jewcer campaign 1000% and can’t wait for my incentives to come: a Tzahal LEGO man and a LEGO tzedakah box! (there’s also a LEGO Seder plate!)”. So far, Kasowitz has raised a little over $5000 of his $20 thousand goal.

Why so much money, 50% of which will go towards building an inventory of Lego parts? Imagine a crazy car mechanic who buys cars fresh off the assembly line, or second hand from people who never drove theirs, then tows them to his garage and strips them for spare parts. This is essentially what Kasowitz is doing with Legos. Not wanting to work with Lego knockoffs or manufacture his own blocks for quality reasons, Kasowitz only works with brand-new, original Lego blocks. As Lego doesn’t sell all parts in bulk, and isn’t cooperating with him on his projects, Kasowitz has to buy existing Lego sets and cannibalize them for parts.

WWII in Lego installed at the First Division museum in Cantigny, Wheaten, IL. Photo: courtesy Yitzy Kasowitz

“There are many people who want to either make custom Lego sets to sell, or they just want to buy [them] on their own, and Lego does not cooperate with anyone, they control the market really tightly”, he says. “They sell some from their own website, and there are some people who sell [them] in an aftermarket. Say they buy a Star Wars set, and they only want the mini figure, they’ll turn around and resell all the rest of the pieces of that set. That’s where I’ll find most of my pieces, online and around the world. It’ll be marked up a little bit, and then I’ll take it and I have to mark it up a little bit myself”.

Once the money is raised, Kasowitz plans to take on larger challenges, building models of the Kotel, Noah’s Ark, and a plastic brick version of Beit Hamikdash in 1:35 scale, which just happens to be the prominent scale for model military vehicles. Play on, and God help us.

A different, shorter version of this story was published on JPost.com, 15 Mar. 2015

About the Author

Ido Kenan is founder of Room 404, a longtime Digital Culture journalist and a raiser of two cats

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