Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz was a beloved family physician who gave his life saving others when a deranged killer opened fire at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Educated at the University of Pennsylvania, Jerry was known for his colorful bowties and infectious laughter. At the start of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s, Jerry cared for patients suffering from what was then a mysterious virus affecting mainly gay men. In those days, there was huge stigma attached to the disease, and many medical workers refused to even touch patients who were HIV positive. Michael Kerr, who has lived with HIV for over 30 years due in part to Jerry’s treatment, wrote a tribute to his doctor after the tragedy. Kerr wrote, "“In the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh, he was the doctor to go to. He was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest. He often held our hands (without rubber gloves) and always, always hugged us as we left his office.”
Others share similar fond memories about Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz. Jan Grice, a patient for 35 years, said “He was the kind of doctor who sent you on your way feeling better in all respects.” Former patient Ben Schmitt said, "Kind and funny, Dr. Rabinowitz completely personified the term 'bedside manner.’"
Jerry was a leader of Dor Hadash, one of three Jewish congregations that held services in the Tree of Life building in Squirrel Hill. A fellow member of Dor Hadash, Brian Primack, described Dr. Rabinowitz in a statement: “Jerry was more than a pillar of our community… He was a gifted teacher, a truly caring family doctor, and a tremendous community leader. He was the first to get to the Shabbat service so he could set up chairs - and then the last to leave so he could clean up and organize the books…. I will deeply miss his smile, his wit, his positivity, and his consistent urge to help."
On October 27, 2018, Jerry was attending Shabbat services at Tree of Life like he did every week. Suddenly, gunshots were heard in a different part of the building. While everybody else was scrambling to escape, Jerry ran towards the gunfire to see if he could help. His body was found right outside the sanctuary.
Jerry is survived by his wife Miri, his mother Sally and his brother Bill.
For lovingly caring for generations of patients and, in his final act, choosing to save others rather than himself, we honor Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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