Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz — one of the 11 people murdered in the anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue building on Oct. 27 — is being remembered by his professional colleagues for much more than his winning smile, his bow ties, and his penchant for dressing up as an elf to entertain hospital patients around Christmastime.
Although those defining attributes of Rabinowitz, a family practice physician, were recalled in fond detail at a memorial service on Nov. 29 at UPMC’s Herberman Conference Center, Rabinowitz’s colleagues are ensuring that his dedication to medical ethics and patient care will be preserved for years to come through an annual lecture series at Shadyside Hospital.
More than 150 medical professionals and friends of Rabinowitz came together at the memorial service, where the Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz Annual Lecture Series, which will be launched next year, was announced. The series will focus on ethics, human relationships and humor. In addition, the Shadyside Family Medicine Department will be developing a special curriculum in ethical human relations “with a side of humor” for its residents and fellows, according to promotional material.
“Everyone learned from Jerry,” noted Dr. Joel Weinberg at the memorial service. “He was our moral compass on many levels.”
The lectures will “hopefully be imbued with a little bit of Jerry,” Weinberg added.
Rabinowitz had been affiliated with Shadyside Hospital since he came to Pittsburgh in the late 1970s for an internship and residency there.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, Rabinowitz also will be remembered at his alma mater through the creation of an endowed scholarship in his name.
Jonah Klein, a general surgery resident at the Lankenau Medical Center and a Pittsburgh native, created a fund to honor Rabinowitz, a longstanding and active member of Congregation Dor Hadash. Rabinowitz had been hiding after the shooter entered the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, but rushed out to care for others when he heard gunshots. It was then that he was killed.
“Dr. Rabinowitz was beloved. He was passionate about family medicine and patient care — he made house calls on many of his patients. He was also a brilliant diagnostician,” Klein said. “Because he attended Penn undergrad and medical school, it was important to recognize him in the medical community here in Philadelphia, so I came up with this idea.”
The project began with a GoFundMe page, with an initial goal of making sure that Rabinowitz was remembered and honored across the state. When the family medicine residency program at Penn took notice, it decided to create an endowed scholarship.
The funds will be awarded annually to a graduating family medicine resident that embodies Rabinowitz’s devotion to patient care and community outreach, Klein said. The hope is that it will enable a family medicine physician to pursue an opportunity that would otherwise not be available, such as working in a community clinic, conducting research, establishing a diabetic or cholesterol care center, or supplementing resources to build an independent practice in an underserved area.
“Dr. Rabinowitz’s death should be a call for us all to model his compassion and urgency to heal the world,” said Rabbi Cheryl Klein, cantor of Dor Hadash.
“Jerry was a once in a lifetime kind of person,” said his friend and colleague, Gary Tabas at the memorial service in Pittsburgh. “I don’t have a mental image of Jerry not smiling.”
Brett Davidson, senior executive director at the Perelman School of Medicine, said the scholarship fund will allow Rabinowitz to be honored in perpetuity.
“An endowment of this type is particularly meaningful in the Family Medicine Department, which receives less notoriety than other departments. This enables us to support a resident to work in the community, advancing patient care, in the way Dr. Rabinowitz did,” Davidson said. “Because these doctors often train and work in economically challenged areas, such as parts of West Philadelphia outside of the Penn campus, the endowment is especially significant.”
Long considered a pillar of his community, Rabinowitz was one of the first physicians in Pittsburgh to treat patients with HIV/AIDS, and was well respected by colleagues, friends, patients and all who knew him, Jonah Klein said.
“Dr. Rabinowitz always took an interest in my medical education and my training. It was really important that he be remembered in Philadelphia, where he started his career,” he said. “Pittsburgh is a very strong community and he will undoubtedly be honored there, but … we need to tell this story every year, especially to young doctors, to ensure that we rebuild our terrible loss.”
Dr. Neil Busis, a longtime friend, colleague and Penn classmate of Rabinowitz, said that he was “thrilled” that Rabinowitz’s legacy is being honored at both Penn and at Shadyside Hospital, and that the scholarship and lecture series will ensure that “Jerry will live in the hearts and minds of other people. Jerry was the real deal.”
Donations to support Shadyside Hospital’s lecture series in memory of Rabinowitz can be made at shadysidehospitalfoundation.org.
The GoFundMe for the page for the Penn scholarship is still accepting donations at gofundme.com/dr-rabinowitz-memorial-scholarship, although those contributions will be transferred directly to the Penn endowment fund. To donate directly to Penn, visit socialfundraising.apps.upenn.edu/ and search “Rabinowitz,” or contact Brett Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-898-9175. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com. Keri White writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.