In Pittsburgh, Hundreds Rise and Say Kaddish for the Jewish Doctor Who Always Stood for Others

Jerry Rabinowitz always stood during the Jewish prayer for mourning, saying he had no children who would one day stand for him, so he stood for others who had no one to honor their memory. His entire community stood for him Sunday

Mourners react during a memorial service at the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Hall of the University of Pittsburgh, a day after 11 worshippers were shot dead at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
\ CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/ REUTERS

A particular custom of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz was noted Sunday at a memorial service honoring him and the 10 other Jews murdered at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.

Week after week, year after year, he stood and chanted the words of the Kaddish (mourning prayer) in Aramaic at his Reconstructionist congregation – even though traditionally Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent) only rise when they themselves are in mourning.

At Sunday's service, it was recalled that when Rabinowitz was asked why he always stood even though custom did not require it, he would say it was because he had no children who would one day stand up for him, so he stood for others who had no one to stand for them. 

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When the Kaddish was read at Sunday's memorial ceremony, the 300 mourners rose as one, and stood and prayed in his memory. They ended with the words: “May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen. He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.”

Among the mourners was Brian Primack, a friend of Rabinowitz and a fellow member of the congregation he helped lead.

"There is sort of a debate about this in the Jewish community. Some people say that it is good to stand with others who are mourning, and others say that it is better to stay seated if you are not formally mourning a relative so that when you are mourning, your standing is somehow more meaningful.

"Given this experience and the loss of Jerry, I can say that from now on, I will now always stand, as he did, both for him and for others who have no one to stand for them.”

Rabinowitz was remembered as a deeply caring physician and friend, easily recognizable with his trademark bow tie and smiling face, and as one of the first doctors in Pittsburgh to treat HIV-positive patients. He was a leader of Dor Hadash, the Reconstructionist congregation that met in the synagogue (one of three different congregations that hold services in the building).

Dr.Jerry Rabinowitz, left, and his wife Miri with their niece at her wedding in Israel, 2016.
Courtesy of Avishai Ostrin

The congregation that was the main focus of Saturday's attack was holding services in one part of the building, while Dor Hadash met in a separate section at the same time.

Avishai Ostrin, Rabinowitz's nephew, wrote a Facebook post explaining that his uncle had been killed while trying to help others.

Ostrin wrote, “When he heard shots he ran outside to try and see if anyone was hurt and needed a doctor. That was Uncle Jerry, that’s just what he did.”

He told Haaretz that this was the account his family had been given. “It speaks to his personality … he was extraordinary,” said Ostrin. 

Primack told Haaretz that Rabinowitz ran to help when they heard a loud noise. Another Dor Hadash member, a nurse, was with him and is among the injured, according to Ostrin.

Primack described 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.

The victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
AP

"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," he added.

Ostrin said his uncle had patients who were the third generation in their family to be treated by him.

“It shows how committed he was to his patients,” he said. “His bow ties, his laughter – this is what stands out to me; he had this happy-go-lucky personality.”