A doctor who was one of the 11 victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was honoured for his efforts in helping patients during the AIDS crisis.
Eight men and three women were shot dead at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill on Saturday (October 27) during the worst antisemitic attack in modern US history, including Dr Jerry Rabinowitz, who practised family medicine a short drive from the synagogue.
One of Rabinowitz’s patients, Michael Kerr, has paid tribute to the doctor for his kind treatment of people with HIV during a time in which tens of thousands died and many were scared to touch sufferers, let alone care for them.
Kerr said that “in the old days for HIV patients in Pittsburgh he was [the] one to go to.
“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 recounted how he and the doctor “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.
“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, who left Pittsburgh for New York City in 2004 and now volunteers for the local branch of anti-HIV campaign group ACT UP, said he “got lucky beyond words.”
He explained that when Rabinowitz “gently told me around November 1995 that it was time to begin taking medications, there was an ACTG trial for two HIV medications that saved my life. One of which I still take today.”
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Kerr added: “Thank you Dr Rabinowitz for having always been there during the most terrifying and frightening time of my life.
“You will be remembered by me always. You are one of my heroes just like the early ACT UP warriors — some of which I now call friend.”
In a second emotional message, Kerr addressed Rabinowitz directly, writing: “I never got to tell you personally I made it through this HIV mess — but I know you’d be proud.
Above a photo of himself campaigning for ACT UP in Times Square, Kerr said: “This would be the perfect picture I’d send to you to say thank you and look at me now.”
He added that the other photo included in his post, a picture of Rabinowitz, “captures your joyous and heartfelt smile that helped so many people.”
HIV ravaged the queer community during the AIDS crisis, as countless media outlets and politicians stayed silent over what was seen as a “gay disease.” One chilling recording featured President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary laughing after being asked about gay people’s deaths.
ACT UP New York posted Kerr’s original message on its Facebook page, adding that the organisation “has thousands of veterans spread across the country, and the NY chapter still attracts members and visitors from all over the world.
“So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that there is an ACT UP connection to yesterday’s antisemitic massacre in Pittsburgh in that one of the victims was a beloved HIV doctor there in the 90s who treated many people with HIV including a current ACT UP NY member.” The group added the hashtags #RIP and #AIDSHero.
The man suspected of carrying out the Pittsburgh attack, Robert Bowers, 46, has been arrested and faces 29 criminal counts, including two hate crime charges.