Back when many people were terrified of HIV patients, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz held their hands without gloves.
When they left his office, he gave them a big hug.
Rabinowitz became known in Pittsburgh as the “one to go to” for HIV care because he treated everyone with dignity and respect, former patient Michael Kerr said.
“Before there was effective treatment for fighting HIV itself, he was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest,” Kerr posted on Facebook. “Thank you Dr. Rabinowitiz for having always been there during the most terrifying and frightening time of my life.”
Rabinowitiz’s patients are among the countless mourners grieving his death after a gunman killed 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Several victims’ funerals are Tuesday, including Rabinowitiz’s.
Rabinowitiz, 66, was a member of Dor Hadash – one of three congregations scheduled to celebrate Sabbath on Saturday at Tree of Life.
The Dor Hadash congregation was like a second home for Rabinowitz, said Deborah Friedman, another of his patients.
Susan Blackman said she knew the primary care physician for 35 years. He was the family doctor for her and her three children.
“He was like a member of the family,” she said. “I can’t imagine the world without him.”
Kerr said Rabinowitz treated him for HIV for years, until Kerr moved to New York City in 2004. Rabinowitz helped him stay calm and got him into trials for medications that Kerr believes saved his life.
“You are one of my heroes,” Kerr said of his former doctor.
Rabinowitz frequently wore bow ties that made people smile and put his patients at ease, his nephew Avishai Ostrin said on Facebook.
“You know how they say there are people who just lighten up a room? You know that cliché about people whose laugh is infectious? That was Uncle Jerry,” he wrote. “It wasn’t a cliché. It was just his personality.”
When gunfire erupted, Rabinowitz was not in the basement where the congregation was gathered but outside the room, his nephew said. “Why? Because 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.”
If there was a message his uncle would want everyone to take from the tragedy, Ostrin said, “it would be a message of love, unity, and of the strength and resilience of the Jewish people.”
Friend Jean Clickner said she had seen Rabinowitz spiritual growth over the past 20 years.
“He wanted to learn,” she said.
Clickner smiled as she spoke to CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the doctor. She raised her hand to a level below the top of her head.
“He’s so big. I mean, he’s a little guy, and he’s bigger than life,” she said. “Everyone knows him (in this city). Everyone’s been touched by him.”
CNN’s Joe Sutton contributed to this report.