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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

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Children’s Hospital Heals More Than Illness

Health care facility in Israel promotes peace through its interfaith initiative

When asked where the motivation came from to build a children’s hospital in Israel open to all regardless of nationality or religion, one of its principal founders answered, “from my head and my wife’s heart.”

That benefactor, Irving Schneider, 84, soft- spoken and direct, is a legendary force in real estate.

From humble beginnings in Brooklyn, where his parents owned a fish market, over several decades Mr. Schneider’s properties have defined and redefined the very skyline of New York City. Indeed, Mr. Schneider has been with Helmsley-Spear Inc., an industry leader, since 1946.

However, it is acclaim for his unswerving involvement with the Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel that should be spelled out across the sky.

Yet Mr. Schneider freely admits it was with guidance from God that the hospital was built.

“I did not know what I was doing,” he said. “But somehow, when I opened my mouth I said the right things.”

From its inception in the 1980’s, Mr. Schneider, together with his wife, Helen, believed the medical center could be part of the foundation for peace in the Middle East. When the cornerstone of the children’s hospital was laid in 1988, it was inscribed in part with the words, “this hospital … will stand as a bridge to peace, linking this nation to its many neighbors.”

Additionally, since the death of Helen in 2001, Mr. Schneider’s steady and inspirational spouse of some 50 years, she will be memorialized as the namesake of a women’s interfaith health clinic that is currently being expanded on the grounds of the children’s hospital near Tel Aviv.

“We took the interfaith policy of the children’s hospital and applied it to the area of women’s health,” said Mr. Schneider.

Still visibly grieving the loss of his wife, he said the clinic was her idea and would stand as a permanent reminder of her belief that peace will eventually come to the Middle East.

Medicine without borders. The children’s hospital officially opened in 1992, and is recognized as one of the most innovative pediatric institutions in the world. The facility is also known for promoting “whole child care,” where medical treatment is accompanied by developmental, psychological, social and educational services. Acknowledging that all children are equal, the hospital has evolved a policy of multidisciplinary treatment alongside integrated supportive care programs.

For the specific requirements of non-Jewish youngsters and their families, the hospital employs multilingual staff. The staff is also sensitized to the delicate political balance in the region and the resulting complex human and civil rights issues that arise for young, particularly Arab, patients.

“My wife and I believed that if an Arab mother came to this hospital and her child was cared for, that would be a step toward lasting peace,” Mr. Schneider said in a recent interview at his office in Manhattan. “Today, almost a third of the patients at the hospital are non-Jewish. They are Druze or Christian or Muslim.”

Mr. Schneider added that “it seems very easy today to be anti-Israeli. But just recently an Israeli soldier brought a 16-year-old Palestinian boy to the hospital who had been bitten by a poisonous snake. The boy’s life was saved.

“It is episodes like these that help me carry on believing there will be peace in the Middle East. I do have this hope.”

Since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, the hospital has treated some 90 children of all faiths who were caught in the crossfire of conflict. All but a handful have recovered.

Mr. Schneider solemnly listed a number of children who have been helped: a young girl who had a nail removed from her heart; a 15-year-old boy who suffered critical burns and has undergone numerous reconstructive surgeries; two teenage girls who are recovering from shrapnel wounds and severe burns.

Widely reported was the case of a 7-year-old Arab girl, Yasmin Abu Rumelieh, who had been suffering from kidney failure. The girl recovered in a real-life medical drama when she received a kidney from the body of a 19-year-old Jewish student, Yoni Jesner, victim of a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

At the time, Yoni’s father, Joseph Jesner, said, “We felt that Yoni would have wanted to help. I suppose we were extending our hands. We believe it was a sanctification of God’s name to bring something positive out of terrible conflict. This is proof it is possible for people to live together.”

Fuad Abu Rumelieh, the father of the girl who received the transplant said, “We are one family. They saved my daughter. Part of their son is living in her.”

But while terror-related crises seem to go on and on, other emergencies – those that mean life or death for a sick child – also require attention. The hospital provides everything from emergency care to continuing care for children with cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

All about the children. The facility was built following a comprehensive study of Israel’s health care system and its national pediatric medical needs.

The study was commissioned by Helen and Irving Schneider following the success of the Schneider Children’s Hospital at the Long Island Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York.

The study concluded that there was a critical need for a modern primary care hospital solely dedicated to children in Israel and the Middle East.

“There were no separate children’s hospitals,” said Mr. Schneider. “We had to train nurses to treat children as children, not just as small adults.”

Health care professionals who work at the hospital say this philosophy makes the hospital unique.

“I think we have caused a revolution in Israel in the way children are treated,” said the hospital’s social work director, Rachel Mandola.

“Everyone from pharmacologists to physiotherapists is child-oriented and looks at things from a child’s perspective. And because a child’s family also bears the brunt of the illness, the hospital tries to look after their needs as well.

“We take into account their culture,” Ms. Mandola added, “whether they are Russians or Arabs or Ethiopians or whatever.”

Irving Schneider regularly visits the hospital that bears his name.

“I never cease to be overwhelmed by what I see there,” he said.

“My wife and I chose to be involved. The hospital is our contribution to peace.

“I still believe that.”

Eileen Reinhard is editor of CNEWA WORLD.

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