“LEGO-MAN”, MAOR COHEN, TELLS HIS STORY:
Three years ago, when I came to Oranit, Ezer Mizion’s Cancer Support Center, to donate some LEGO sets, they asked me to work with children who have cancer and with children whose parents have cancer. “Wait! Stop! That’s more than I bargained for! All I came for was a one-time donation of LEGO .” I felt overwhelmed. This wasn’t what I had planned on. But the angels at Ezer Mizion made me see how much more I could do. I was frightened at the thought. After all, the word ‘cancer’ is unmentionable and I’d be not only using the word but diving right in. Lego therapy is what they called it. Something to enable the child to be a child in spite of the raging river of terror that threatens to drown him.
I was hesitant. At the time, my wife and I had been married for some time and still had no children. A friend gave me some great advice: If you want Hashem to give you children, volunteer to take care of His children. That clinched it. I was still hesitant, still frightened but I began with baby steps, thus launching my career as Lego Man. We have two little girls now. I can never thank my friend enough for his advice.
When I see those suffering children, I understand their inner turmoil. I know what it means to be a child with a sick parent.
Ever since I was 5 years old, my father, may he live and be well, has been a heart patient. For almost thirty 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.
But he did his absolute best, and even more, to see to it that I had a good childhood. Even at the peak of his illness, it was important to him to be a loving, relevant, and active father.
My mother fought like a lioness to make sure that I, her youngest, would not feel deprived. But the hospital visits and constant, pervasive fear did their part and without question, had an effect on me. 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.
The real burden fell on my mother, who would not give up. Her concern that all of us would continue to live our lives in an emotionally healthy manner became her life mission. Thank G-d, my father continues onward. There are better days and there are worse.
When I am at the LEGO club with children whose parents are dealing with cancer, I melt with compassion. I remember myself in their shoes – the fears, the concerns, the feeling that the most prominent figure in your life is fighting for his life…and may lose the battle. It isn’t easy. Each time I relate to a child whose parent died, the challenge intensifies, and with it, the commitment that as long as a child is in my LEGO club, I will make sure he gets what this club was established for – a chance to hold on to the security of normal world of childhood.
Cancer, whether it afflicts a family member or the child himself, tears apart the fabric, the core of one’s being. His inner persona lies there- shattered – like a thousand fragmented puzzle pieces. As the child assemblies a complex LEGO creation, he rebuilds his innermost soul.
A case in point was the teen who became extremely depressed when diagnosed with cancer. He refused to relate to anyone. Neither the medical staff nor even his close family members. I was asked to visit him. The first visit was a failure. I spent the time working with the LEGO myself, completely ignored by the boy I had come to help. But I continued on.
I visited him every day, talking to him, playing with LEGO. I got no more reaction than if I had been a puff of wind. It was discouraging, to say the least. Then one day, he answered. With one word. A week later, a sentence. Soon he was helping me build. We have a beautiful relationship now. He is better able to cope with his disease psychologically. His spirit has partnered with his body in the battle for life.
Every year, for the past three years, we hold a “LEGO in Honey” event during the Rosh Hashona- Yom Kippur season at Oranit – a LEGO party for children whose parent has cancer. About thirty families step out of their medical nightmare for the moment, sit around tables heaped with LEGO, and build a variegated display of creations. Three lucky winners leave with huge LEGO sets and everyone gets a standard family LEGO set as a gift. a similar event is held around Passover entitled Afi-Lego. The LEGO club has even expanded to include adults.
During the last party, I stood at the side for a moment and returned in my mind to those days when Ima and I would come home from the hospital after visiting Abba. I would go into my room, sit on the floor, open the LEGO drawer, and immerse myself in my own world, building whimsical creations and dreaming of the days when everything would be okay.
Thank you for enabling me to walk down this path each time anew, reliving my own childhood feelings, empathizing with the kids around me and giving, giving , giving enabling them to better cope with the monster named Cancer that has taken over their lives.
Together we walk down the path of colorful LEGO bricks at Oranit, bringing healing into the hearts of suffering children and families. All this happens thanks to you – you our generous friends an supporters who have become a partner with us, making these moving events possible.
Over 650,000 people benefit each year from its many services. The elderly and disabled are transported to medical clinics and therapy, families dealing with serious illness receive regular hot meals, a wide range of programs and support services are available for the special child and the mentally ill, the cancer patient benefits from an array of services and hundreds of cancer patients are saved by Ezer Mizion’s International Jewish Bone Marrow Regisitry.
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