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Remembering Jerry Rabinowitz: 'Kind, gentle' doctor among the victims in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

Ben Schmitt
| Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, 10:27 a.m.
Jerry Rabinowitz
Submitted
Jerry Rabinowitz
Mourners hold candles in the air during an interfaith vigil in Squirrel Hill on October 27, 2018 to mourn the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue, where a gunman killed 11 people and injured six.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Mourners hold candles in the air during an interfaith vigil in Squirrel Hill on October 27, 2018 to mourn the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue, where a gunman killed 11 people and injured six.

Two years ago, my father fell ill during a business trip in India, victimized by a gastrointestinal bug that strikes many travelers.

Alarmed and 8,000 miles from his Pittsburgh home, he called his doctor, Jerry Rabinowitz.

Dr. Rabinowitz, who practiced family medicine in a small, cozy office in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, quickly returned the call.

My dad’s trip was far from over. He had to endure.

Dr. Rabinowitz called him on his cellphone daily for the remainder of my dad’s trip.

“He was genuinely concerned,” my father, Jerry Schmitt, told me. “He wanted to know what my symptoms were. He worked to calm me down. He called me — every day.”

I saw the name — Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz — Saturday night in a text message, while working at the Tribune-Review coordinating coverage of the mass shooting that morning inside a Squirrel Hill synagogue. He was there when a gunman stormed in and opened fire. He was dead.

The name hadn’t yet been officially confirmed. But I knew it was him.

Rabinowitz also was my doctor. He presided over my care when I was a teen and, again, when I moved home in 2010. He treated dad for more than 30 years.

I sent my dad a text message with the information, then quickly realized it was a mistake. I was so entrenched in the coverage that I coldly shared the news when I received it. I should have made a personal call.

My father later told me he fell to his knees in tears after reading the message.

“He was a really remarkable guy in everything he did,” my dad said. “Every time I would see him, he would do the exam and he would then take me into his office and we talked. There was no rush to get out of his office. It was like I was the only patient he had — and I know that’s not true.”

Kind and funny, Dr. Rabinowitz completely personified the term “bedside manner.”

My dad was in his mid-30s when he first went to him for a skiing injury to his hand. Rabinowitz took his vitals and discovered dad’s high blood pressure.

“He sat me down and talked to me about my circulatory system like it was a radiator in a car,” dad said. “He calmly explained what happens when a radiator springs a leak. He said, ‘You have got to get it under control.’ ”

From that day forward, he diligently monitored dad’s blood pressure.

“I felt like I was in such competent, caring hands,” my dad said.

Dr. Rabinowitz used to take notes by hand. As his practice transitioned to computers, Rabinowitz often joked about his troubles mastering the newer technology.

My dad is 68. During each visit to Rabinowitz, the doctor warmly greeted him by saying, “What’s happening young man?”

“I called him, ‘Jerry.’ He always called me ‘Jerome,’ ” my dad said.

When my family and I moved back to Pittsburgh, we rented a house in Edgewood for several years. Dr. Rabinowitz, coincidentally, lived around the corner. He cruised by on his bicycle often as I walked my dog. “Hello, young man,” he’d say to me.

He’d also endearingly called me “young man” when I visited his office to talk about borderline high blood pressure, exercise or the importance of a flu shot.

In a funny turn of events, he once placed his old Weber gas grill on the curb with a sign reading “free.” I adopted the grill, rolled it home and opened it to find handwritten instructions on how to light it. I used it for several years before placing it on my curb, “free” for the next taker.

The doctor laughed heartily when I told him I was the person who picked up the grill from his curbside. He was delighted.

During a recent visit, Dr. Rabinowitz asked my father about retirement. My dad hadn’t yet thought about it.

He returned the question to Dr. Rabinowitz.

The doctor replied, “I’m not ever going to retire.”

Dad said, “That’s good. Don’t ever retire.”

He wondered who could possibly care for him in the way Dr. Rabinowitz did.

“Now, I’ve lost him,” dad said. “Such a kind and gentle man.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Ben at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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