Last September, Dr. Eugene Katz stood proudly beside fellow reproductive endocrinologists at the grand opening of the Shady Grove Fertility Center in his hometown, the Chilean capital of Santiago.
“It was very emotional for me,” recalls Dr. Katz, 63. “I invited my friends from the Maccabi Hatzair [Zionist youth group] and my friends from medical school.”
For Dr. Katz, who came to the U.S. in 1981, working with Chilean staff to organize and facilitate the opening of the clinic was an important way to thank his homeland for his medical training.
“My medical school [in Chile] was practically free,” says Dr. Katz, who did his first medical residency at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. “This is my way of giving back.”
The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants who came to Chile after World War l, Dr. Katz describes his childhood as “extremely happy.” His parents — a seamstress and the owner of a shoe store — spoke fluent Yiddish in the home.
Although his childhood was free from overt anti-Semitism, Dr. Katz says, “I always had a label that I was Jewish. My name was different. Chile is a very Catholic country.”
Dr. Katz attended a Jewish day school, and like many of his Jewish peers he was an active member of one of Santiago’s many Zionist youth groups that sprouted up after Israel’s independence.
“Even though I went to a religious school, we barely prayed,” he says. “But we learned Jewish history very well. The impetus was that we would one day move to Israel. …
“I thought I would make aliyah,” says Dr. Katz, who visited the Jewish state in his early 20s and became fluent in Hebrew. “But there were a lot of physicians in Israel. Even though my heart is in Israel, my brain was always in the U.S.”
Determined to enhance his medical education, Dr. Katz — with the assistance of a Chilean physician working at Tulane University — came to New Orleans where he finished his medical residency.
Being in the Big Easy was a dream come true for Dr. Katz. “I loved jazz music,” he says. “You couldn’t find it on the radio in Chile. I used to go to the [North] American Cultural Institute [in Santiago] to listen to jazz LPs.”
In 1985, Dr. Katz moved to Baltimore to continue his specialization in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Johns Hopkins University. Today, he practices at Shady Grove Fertility Center’s Towson and Bel Air offices.
Dr. Katz lives in Owings Mills with his American-born wife, Joy, and has two adult children who attended Krieger Schechter Day School.
One concession Dr. Katz made when coming to the U.S. was to change his name from Eugenio to Eugene because “it was easier to pronounce.”
“I am the archetypal wandering Jew,” he says with a laugh. “I have an accent and I grew up in a small country, so I was very aware of the rest of the world.”
Dr. Katz says he still gets goose bumps when he sees an American flag. “I came to the United States because it’s the best place,” he says. “God bless America.”