Maj.(res.) Maor Cohen has dedicated his life to bringing smiles to children with cancer, by bringing them Lego sets, no matter where and no matter the time.
Cohen is known as the Lego Man, a unique nickname he earned for his extensive volunteering during which he’s donated more than 10,000 sets of Legos to sick kids over the past 12 years.
"Some kids refuse to go into surgery without the Lego sets…they don’t know if they will survive. Other kids crying in pain, are smiling after I drop off Lego sets, even at midnight.”Maj.(res.) Maor Cohen
He first started when he was still in uniform, serving in the IDF’s Manpower Directorate in charge of the drafting process of special populations and volunteers into the military. Over his career, Cohen met with sick kids in hospitals and later even drafted some of them into the IDF.
“Coming in an IDF uniform gave a sense of security, and over the past 12 years, I built a reputation and always came with a smile. And that always brought a smile to their faces,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Cohen’s love for Legos began at age five and has since become a huge part in his life.
“My hobby is Legos. I have a whole room dedicated to Legos,” he said. “But this [handing out Legos] is not just about volunteering, it’s in my blood.”
The origins of Lego Man
According to Cohen, he first began volunteering when his wife was undergoing in-vitro fertilization. He met a sick kid who was celebrating a birthday and asked for Legos. From then on, he was not just Maj. Maor Cohen, but Mr. Lego Man.
Cohen volunteers as part of the Ezer Mizion bone marrow donor registry and its Oranit Cancer Patient Guest Home and cancer support services.
All the Legos are bought by funds donated to Ezer Mizion, as are the trips abroad.
At first, Cohen established a weekly Lego-building class for children and later expanded it to hand out Lego sets to families and sick children.
“I don’t only help sick kids, but families who are sick. Mothers or fathers may be sick and I am here to give support to the kids,” Cohen said. “Some kids refuse to go into surgery without the Lego sets... they don’t know if they will survive. Other kids crying in pain are smiling after I drop off Lego sets, even at midnight.”
The Post met with Cohen in central Tel Aviv during a break from his nursing classes, a new career path he’s pursuing after retiring from the military following 24 years of service. As we met, Cohen had just dropped off a Lego set for a young girl who was fighting cancer.
“Coming in an IDF uniform gave a sense of security and over the past 12 years, I built a reputation and always came with a smile. And that always brought a smile to their faces.”Maj.(res.) Maor Cohen
She was full of smiles as she pulled out her newest set from Cohen. In addition to a new Lego set, she was excited as Mr. Lego Man explained that they would be going to Dubai in the coming weeks with 35 other children who are sick with cancer.
“It will be her first trip abroad without us,” the child’s mother said. “But she will have the Lego Man.”
Later in the day, after his classes were finished, Cohen was set to drive to Tiberias to hand over another Lego set to a sick kid who was celebrating his bar mitzvah.
For Cohen, distance doesn’t figure into whether he will bring a set to a sick kid or not. Neither does the cost.
“It doesn’t matter to me. As long as I know that this is the Lego set that they want and it will make him happy.”
Earlier this year, shortly after he was released from the military, Cohen changed his travel plans and flew to Cyprus to comfort a family who lost their child to cancer.
Four-year-old Evelina Papantoniou fought against an aggressive form of cancer and was treated in Germany and in Israel, where she met Cohen while staying at the Oranit Cancer Patient Guest House in Petah Tikva.
She was undergoing treatment at Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel in the city and became particularly attached to Cohen. At the end of the treatments, she flew back to Cyprus with her family. Unfortunately, the cancer spread, and she died in August.
Cohen told the Post that Papantoniou’s father called and gave him the sad news and said that two hours before she passed, she asked to see the Lego Man. Without thinking, Cohen immediately made his way to Ben-Gurion Airport with a Lego set for Papantoniou’s brother and flew to Limassol.
The Lego provider was described by Ezer Mizion director Dr. Bracha Zisser as being a core part of its cancer support team.
Maor is “always available at any time,” she said.
“His army career was a part of his awesome giving that made the kids who waited to see him so happy when he came to visit them, dressed in his army uniform, bringing a Lego set especially for them,” said Zisser. “Although Maor has retired from the IDF, Ezer Mizion will continue to be his main life’s project," she said. "It is a huge privilege for Ezer Mizion to have Maor on board with us. Together we will continue to bring joy and fun to children who are struggling with serious life-threatening illnesses, even at their most difficult moments.”
In recognition of his hard work, Cohen was chosen to light a torch during Israel’s 73rd Independence Day ceremony.