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Jewish Hospitals Lead Way in Effort by U.S. and Latvia

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In a partnership first lay Hillary Rodham Clinton said should bring “great pride to Americans and Latvians,” the Jewish hospital in Riga, Latvia, along with two other local hospitals, has formally agreed to cooperate with three medical facilities in St. Louis.

Under the agreement, which comes partially as a result of efforts by American Jewish organizations in Latvia, the U.S. Agency for International Development will support educational trips for Latvian and American health care workers.

Officials at the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis, the Barnes Jewish Christian Health System and the Washington University School of Medicine will join with health care professionals at Riga’s City Maternity hospital, the State Hospital for Children and Bikur Holim, the city’s Jewish hospital, to share medical knowledge and skills.

According to Batya Abramson Goldstein, associate executive director of the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council, the American doctors will provide medical and scientific expertise to the Latvians. The Americans will benefit from what Goldstein called “the `human approach’ which sometimes gets lost in American medicine.”

The St. Louis Jewish community has been involved with efforts to improve health care in Latvia for a long time.

When the historically Jewish Bikur Holim hospital in Riga was returned to the city’s Jewish population in 1992, the U.S.-based National Conference for Soviet Jewry established links between the Jewish communities in St. Louis and Riga. The St. Louis JCRC joined in this partnership, encouraging individuals to take an interest in medical conditions there.

Last July, the Latvian medical situation gained wider attention after first lady Clinton visited Latvia and decided to get the U.S. government involved. She hosted the White House ceremony last month to formalize the agreement among the six hospitals.

For the Jewish groups that had labored to build U.S.-Latvia medical cooperation, the signing ceremony, which also featured Latvian first lady Aina Ulmane and U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Brian Atwood, was an unexpected surprise.

“The partnership shows that sometimes unexpected gains can be reached,” said Goldstein.

The ceremony also marked a new beginning, which organizers say will have an impact on Jewish communities both in America and Eastern Europe.

“With a Jewish hospital, the (Riga Jewish) community has the possibility to develop and become stronger,” said Dr. Arkady Ganz, head of the Bikur Holim hospital. The number of Jews in Riga ranges from 14,500 to 20,000.

And the American Jewish community will benefit as well.

“It makes our Jewish community know they are taking part in the process of community building in the former Soviet Union,” said Dr. David Caplin, chairman of the JCRC’s Riga medical committee.

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