October 29, 2018 at 9:49 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Doctor who treated HIV/AIDS patients among synagogue massacre victims

World AIDS Day, AIDS movement, 90/90/90, AIDS, red ribbon, gay news, AIRS, gay news, Washington Blade

Jerry Rabinowitz, a Pittsburgh doctor who was known for his compassionate treatment of his patients with HIV/AIDS, was among the 11 people who were killed inside the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

One of the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh was a well-respected doctor who was known for his compassionate treatment of his patients with HIV/AIDS.

NBC News and other media outlets reported Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, began to treat people with HIV/AIDS in the early days of the epidemic. Michael Kerr of ACT UP New York on his Facebook page wrote Rabinowitz was his doctor until he moved from Pittsburgh to New York City in 2004.

“In the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh he was to one to go to,” wrote Kerr. “Basically, before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, 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.”

Kerr wrote he and Rabinowitz “made a deal about my T cells in that I didn’t want to know the numbers visit to visit because I knew I would fret with every little fluctuation and I also knew that AZT was not working for my friends.”

“The deal was that he would just let me know at some point when the T cell numbers meant I needed to start on medications,” said Kerr. “The numbers were his job and my job was to finish my master’s thesis and get a job with insurance and try to not go crazy.”

Kerr on his Facebook page wrote Rabinowitz in the fall of 1995 “gently told me” that “it was time to begin taking medications.” Kerr said he still takes one of the medications Rabinowitz recommended to him.

“You saved my life,” wrote Kerr.

Kerr has not responded to the Washington Blade’s request for comment, but he described Rabinowitz on his Facebook page as “one of my heroes just like the early ACT UP warriors — some of which I now call friend (sic).” José M. Zuniga, president of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care, which is based in D.C., told the Blade on Monday that Rabinowitz treated people with HIV/AIDS through his family practice in Pittsburgh.

“It is tragic to lose any life to senseless violence, but sad for the medical profession to lose one of its own — Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz — who was dedicated to a humanist approach to medicine,” said Zuniga. “We must be guided by our common humanity in these troubled times, and honor Dr. Rabinowitz’s life and legacy by advocating respect for the dignity of every human life, irrespective of religious belief or any other factor that expresses our diversity.”

AIDS Free Pittsburgh, a program that operates under the Pittsburgh-based Jewish Healthcare Foundation, in a statement to the Blade echoed Zuniga.

“He was a friend of the foundation and his impact on HIV/AIDS care in our region will not be forgotten,” said AIDS Free Pittsburgh. “He was one of the first doctors to serve the AIDS community in Pittsburgh, and did so with compassion, love and empathy.  His contributions to battling the AIDS epidemic will forever be remembered. His senseless and tragic death has touched us all and he will be missed.”

Other HIV/AIDS service organizations with whom the Blade spoke on Monday also mourned Rabinowitz’s death.

“Our network of medical care providers is mourning the loss of a respected member of the HIV care provider community, Dr. Rabinowitz,” said Bruce Packett, deputy executive director of the D.C.-based American Academy of HIV Medicine. “We offer our sincerest condolences to the friends, family and community of this hero, and to all those other victims of this senseless act of hatred and violence.”

Jewish LA mayor: ‘This is my country’

A gunman killed Rabinowitz and 10 others on Saturday when he opened fire inside the Tree of Life Synagogue. The massacre is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

Federal authorities have charged the gunman with hate crimes, weapons and other charges. The gunman made his first court appearance on Monday.

The massacre has prompted an outpouring of grief across the country and around the world.

The lights of Paris’ Eiffel Tower were turned off on Sunday to honor the victims. The American and Israeli flags were projected onto the side of Tel Aviv City Hall after the massacre.

“As a Jew, like everybody that is here, I belong here,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Sunday as he choked back tears during a vigil for the victims that took place in his city’s Westwood neighborhood. “This is my country. This is our city, and we all belong here.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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