By Michele Justic
It all began with a Facebook video. I don’t believe too many positive stories begin this way, but I’m proud to say this one does. I24 captured video of IDF Major Maor Cohen’s special mission for nine years: to help children with cancer escape into the world of Legos for a few hours at a time. His message spoke to me immediately. In the video, one mother explains “Cancer broke my family apart and Lego rebuilt it anew.”
My son always made a beeline to the Lego area at Mommy and Me each week. For his second birthday, I decided to buy him a big builders’ box of Lego. He got croup shortly before his birthday so I decided to give him the present a little early. I remember the miraculous sound of clicking and clacking and the total absence of the scary cough he had beforehand. Baruch Hashem, we’ve been blessed with health, and not a day goes by without the happy sound of his Lego clicking. While STEM educational models point to the mathematical and engineering benefits of Lego, I had forgotten the mindfulness aspect of it until seeing this video.
I contacted Ezer Mizion, which was mentioned in the video to see how we could be a part of it for Michael’s bar mitzvah project. Hadassah Somosi, an incredibly warm, caring, devoted, and capable director of Resource Development at Ezer Mizion, connected all the dots for me and we had our date set and plans in place of which Lego sets to bring for our Israel trip and what to do.
Can there be a more appropriate location for Ezer Mizion’s Oranit cancer patient guest home and center for its cancer support services than Petach Tikvah—defined as “opening of hope?” Built in 1996, with the generous assistance of the Bracha & Motti Zisser Foundation and the Rosinger Family, Oranit is located amidst three major hospitals that treat pediatric cancer and provides them with an oasis while enduring difficult treatments. The Andrew and Margaret Rosinger Residential Wing provides housing for children and families for short-term stays as well as endless options for recreation at the Donald Berman Rehabilitation Center—the Rinat Bakshi Wildlife Pavilion, the cleanest petting zoo around, arts-and-crafts including a full ceramics studio, music therapy including a recording studio, a movie theater, snacks, slushies and meals, indoor and outdoor spotlessly clean Malka Lazarus playgrounds, and, of course, what drew us there: the Lego room. As Hadassah explained on our tour, “We want to make them happy in the hope it will help make them well.”
Thanks to import taxes, in Israel Lego can cost triple the price as in the United States, so many children do not have any Lego sets. At Ezer Mizion – Oranit, they have weekly Lego workshops and their projects are stored while under construction and displayed once completed. Families usually do the projects and escape into this alternate world together, letting the cancer suffering vanish for a precious hour or two. One mother told me in addition to this, Maor comes and visits her son in the hospital in the evening to do these projects as well. As I walked in, I overheard a son walking in with his father asking, “Is it Lego time now?” and he was happy with the answer.
Miracles abound at Ezer Mizion. Upstairs houses the largest Jewish bone marrow registry in the world. Stem cells are collected from willing donors, including many from the IDF, and sent to hospitals facilitating lifesaving transplants.
In an article in the San Diego Jewish World, Maor writes about his personal connection to family illness: “Ever since I was five years old, my father, may he live and be well, has been a heart patient. For almost 30 years, he has been fighting a variety of illnesses—on chagim, Shabbat, and ordinary weekdays. I never had the security of knowing that just because I saw my father at breakfast would he be there at supper … Through the years, Abba got better and then was sick again, and that cycle kept repeating itself. As a family, we learned to live with this reality.”
Maor and his wife had their own personal challenges. That is not what motivated Maor to get involved with kids with cancer through his Lego passion, but once he started, he and his wife experienced a literal salvation and their challenge was resolved. As one mother commented, “You don’t have to look for angels in heaven. Because they’re here walking among us. Maor is one of those angels.”
As my family took it all in, Hadassah had more special plans for us. The Lego sets we brought were reserved for some of the sickest children and we accepted that Ezer Mizion would do the right thing. But as some of them actually walked in to join the Lego workshop, Michael had the rare opportunity to give a set to a few children in person. They exchanged hugs and warm words. The only dry eyes in the house were on the Lego figures.
I can’t daven now without thinking of these special families and hoping for a refuah sheleimah for everyone. I hope to continue supporting Ezer Mizion and I encourage our readers to do the same at EzerMizion.org/donate-to-ezer-mizion.html#tabs-4.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to coordinate a bar or bat mitzvah project with Ezer Mizion.