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Children’s Hospital Heals More Than Illness

In Israel, a health care initiative is building bridges to peace

by Eileen Reinhard

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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.

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Tags: Children Israel Health Care