It’s not every day that an official Israel Prison escort vehicle pulls up at our doors — especially not one bringing a large paper-mâché sculpture of a lion – but that’s exactly what happened yesterday at Hadassah-Ein Kerem. As you can see from the pictures, there were smiles to spare when the lion moved into the Dyna and Fala Weinstock Dept. of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology. I know this lovely story will make you smile as well.
The 14- to 18-year-olds housed in the Ofek Juvenile Prison have been convicted of violent crimes, including theft and drugs. The maximum security Ofek prison – the only one for juveniles in the country - provides them with educational, recreational and enrichment activities, including the art class where the lion sculpture concept was developed.
It all began when a young man in the art class was etching in copper and made a hole through the copper plate, explained prison art teacher Sharon Sivan. “My clumsy hands have absolutely no sensitivity,” he blurted out in frustration. Sharon spoke with Ricki Hen, a student at Beit Berl College that focuses on education, social sciences, art and culture, and together they created the “Sensitive Hands for the Community” project for the prisoners.
Sharon and Ricki contacted Tal Barnea who coordinates activities at Hadassah for Amutat Chayim, a national charitable organization for children with cancer. Tal visited Ofek Prison and told the young inmates about the Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Department. The project took off.
The teenaged prisoners decided to create a lion because Amy Rubinger’s children’s book – There Are No Lions Like This! – tells the story of lions in strange situations – such as lions that sing to put people at ease. “Working on the project, the inmates became emotionally involved and really opened,” Tal said. “They know they have committed serious crimes, but now they understood they could do something good.”
“Nobody ever read me a book or told me a bedtime story,” said one inmate from a dysfunctional home.
Destructive hands that were the tools of crimes were suddenly being involved in a positive activity, offering the teens an alternative to violence. They learned about Hadassah’s pediatric cancer patients – and about childhood cancer – and went out of their way to make sure their lion would please, not frighten.
All elements were taken into consideration. The sculpture had to be pleasant to touch, and have soft hair; it shouldn’t be too big or scary. The edges had to be rounded so that young patients wouldn’t hurt themselves. They chose colors that would appeal to both boys and girls – yellow, brown, pink, and others.
They began by collecting newspapers from throughout the prison and used some of their pocket-money for other items required. They made the skeleton of the paper-mâché lion out of iron, which strengthens the sculpture but also symbolizes the iron bars of the prison.
On Thursday, two Ofek Prison guards brought the lion to Hadassah. Accompanied by Tal, Sharon, Ricki and others, they helped Chris the Clown carefully place the lion in a wheelchair and bring it up to the Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Department on the Fifth Floor of the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Mother and Child Center.
Dr. Michael Weintraub, Director of the Department, was deeply moved by the special project. "I was not able to participate in the delivery of the sculpture," he said. “Unfortunately, I was consulting with a 12-year-old patient who had just been diagnosed with cancer, and his parents."
Hadassah houses the only comprehensive child cancer unit in the greater Jerusalem area. It serves a large, heterogeneous population from diverse ethnic and psychosocial backgrounds. The main mission is to provide state-of-the-art care for children and adolescents with cancer and severe non-malignant hematological diseases.
Every year the Department treats around 100 newly diagnosed patients with cancer; between 400 and 500 children our Out-Patient Clinic for follow-up treatment. Over 75 percent of children diagnosed with cancer are cured.
“The ‘Sensitive Hands for the Community’ project is a unique partnership between Ofek Prison and Amutat Chayim that will bring joy to the sick children here at Hadassah," Dr. Weintraub said. "We are quite moved that the young inmates heard about our patients and created the sculpture for them. The prisoners' efforts show compassion and concern for the sick children, which is exactly what our Hadassah team does – ensuring the children receive that extra personal, emotional involvement along with the highest level of medical care available."
Although he was not there to welcome the lion to the Department, we know that Dr. Weintraub will give the lion the extra special attention he gives to all his patients.