Still healing at Tree of Life synagogue

But when things happen on a smaller scale, such that we can identify with the victims, we’re more likely to empathize and feel sadness, especially if we feel some type of personal connection. But even if not, we all suffer when bad things happen to other people, like they did in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania October 2018.

When we read about far away tragic events in the news, it’s easy to feel disconnected, to think things like that don’t happen in my circle. Behavioral health professionals tell us that most people became numb to the massive number of deaths from the COVID 19 pandemic because we can’t relate to that much tragedy.

But when things happen on a smaller scale, it’s easier to identify with the victims; we’re more likely to empathize and feel sadness, especially if we feel some type of personal connection. But even if not, we all suffer when bad things happen to other people, like they did in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania October 2018.

post updated October 2022
Tree of Life mosaic, photo from Lightstock, an affiliate link

Attack at Tree of Life synagogue

“On Oct. 27,2018 a man, armed with a belly full of anti-Semitic hatred and the kind of semi-automatic weaponry that United States Navy SEALs carry into battle, stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was a Saturday morning — the sabbath.  People had gathered to praise God and just find a few moments of spiritual peace. What came to be known — ironically — as the “Tree of Life Massacre” was not the worst mass shooting in American history. It wasn’t even the worst in 2018 when our nation was targeted with 323 mass shootings.

But, as with the killing of 17 students and teachers on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the murders at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue seemed to push America’s struggle with gun violence down a deeper and more  tragic hole. Not even a school or a house of God on the sabbath could be spared from gun violence. What was America becoming? “

An unexpected connection

In early October 2018 I received an email from a physician I had never met. He had written a book and asked me to read and review it on my blog. I agreed and posted a review here.

A couple of weeks later I was horrified by news that another mass shooting had occurred in the U.S. , this time at a synagogue in a community called Squirrel Hill. A few days later, I remembered I had seen that name before.

The physician who wrote to me, Dr. Jonathan Weinkle, practices at the Squirrel Hill Health Center. And he is Jewish.

Pitchwerks podcast - #115:Dr. Jonathan Weinkle

Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Squirrel Hill is considered a historic center for Jewish life in Pittsburgh. It is home to more than a quarter of Jewish households in the Pittsburgh-area, according to a Brandeis University study of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community.

I emailed him and was relieved to learn he was safe. He had attended a Bat Mitzvah there just the week before the attack.

But as I had feared, some of the victims were his friends and colleagues.

One of the victims I learned about through our professional organization, the American Academy of Family Physicians, AAFP. Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz’s death was reported on the organization’s Facebook page. He was a friend and colleague of Dr. Weinkle.

Also killed was dentist Dr. Rich Gottfried who worked at the Squirrel Hill Health center where Dr. Weinkle practices.

a building with sign-Squirrel Hill Health Center

Dr. Weinkle eulogizes his friends

Dr. Weinkle wrote reflections about his two friends and colleagues, shared them with me, and graciously consents to my sharing with you.


This message was posted on the Squirrel Hill Health Center Facebook page

Dr. Rich Gottfried

The Hebrew letters often hint at a common object: bet hints at bayit, a house.  Gimel hints at gamal, a camel.  And shin?  Why, shen, of course – tooth.

I like to think that the reason for this is that shin, or rather sin, which is the same letter with the dot moved to the other side, is also the first letter in sameach, happy.  And what do we do when we are happy?  We smile and show our teeth.

My colleague Rich Gottfried smiled all the time; as people spoke at his funeral, or around the office this week, almost all took note of his smile.  He was the Hines Ward of dentists, it would seem – always smiling.

Rich brought happiness to people through their own teeth, too.  Poor dentition is a major source of shame for people, afraid to smile or look someone in the eye for fear of having their decayed teeth be the only thing the other person will see.  For a person without dental insurance, or without substantial means, dental work or even preventive care can be prohibitively expensive.  A Hobson’s choice – shame, or bankruptcy?

Rich listened to that struggle.  Even when he was in full time private practice, he blocked off time to do pro bono work for the uninsured .  And as he and his wife Peg Durachko, who was not only his life partner but his dental partner, wound down their practice as they approached retirement, they brought their services to us, at a community health center that treated many people who had never seen a dentist in their lives. 

They overcame the fear that one dental cleaning might lead to all the teeth falling out, and got things set right for the first time ever.  Culturally competent dentistry – now those are healers who listen.

Shin stands for something else, too – Shadai, the almighty God.  It is the letter on every mezuzah on every Jewish door, reminding us that God has our backs, and that we need to refresh ourselves on what God wants from us every time we enter or leave a room.  And for Rich Gottfried, what God wanted from him was to be a blessing to others around him, through his talents in taking care of their shin-ayim.

a Jewish passover seder plate with a lit cancle
photo from the collection, an affiliate link

Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz

“Do not console a person whose deceased relative lies before him” Pirke Avot 4:23

Well, now we have begun to bury them; the time of consolation for the families and community of my murdered friends has begun.  They are no longer lying before us and we must begin to fix their memories in our minds.

Among the dead October 27th were two men who epitomized the title of this site: “Healers who Listen.”  A third still clings to life and with God’s help may recover to help the rest of us heal.  Over the next three days I will remember each of them.

Jerry Rabinowitz was laid to rest yesterday, October 30th.  In the hour before the funeral I was with a friend who told me that Jerry had been his doctor.  With a wry smile, he told me,

“The first time I went to him we were in there for an hour and a half – and the first thirty minutes had nothing to do with my health.” 

He listened to get to know the person sitting in front of him before diving into the rabbit hole of the purely physical.

At the funeral, Jerry’s partner Ken Cieselka spoke of “their finest hour” as a practice – the late 1980s, when they began caring for patients with HIV/AIDS.  The disease was then incurable, and the people suffering from it were then considered by many to be untouchable. 

But not by Jerry and Ken.  They listened to the voice of suffering that no one else would ease, and understood it was their responsibility to do so.

At the synagogue, Jerry heard gunfire.  In that sound, he did not hear a warning to get out.  He heard people being hurt, of people who would need his help. 

There is a Jewish concept that the choleh l’faneinu, the ill person in front of us, should get our attention first.  For Jerry even being aware of that person’s illness or suffering, even in danger, even where he could not see them, put them l’fanav, right in front of him, where he had to help them. 

He listened, and met his end as he lived his life, caring for people.

I assume Jerry did not have a chance to read Healing People, Not Patients; it was only published a month ago and he was as busy as I was.  The truth is that he did not need to read my manifesto of compassionate, personal healing.  He lived it; he could have written it himself.

a male doctor talking to a middle aged woman
Dr. Weinkle with a patient




Dr. Weinkle concluded his note to me, writing,


“ The good news is that unlike other pogroms that have afflicted my people over the centuries, this one was carried out by a lone wolf and the majority of our neighbors are on our side, not the side of the perpetrators. There is strength and hope in that beyond measure.”

Visit Dr. Weinkle’s website , Healers Who Listen

A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Filmmaker Trish Adlesic’s documentary “A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting” is a deeply personal portrait of those who survived the horror of the Oct. 27, 2018, massacre.

Told through first-person accounts, the film documents the violence and terror that unfolded that day —but it is also a story of survival and strength seen through the eyes of survivors, family members of those who were killed and the community.

The film premieres on HBO October 26, 2022.

sharing the HEART of health

Thank you for joining me to honor Dr. Weinkle’s colleagues. Please share this post and my review of his enlightening book, HEALING PEOPLE, NOT PATIENTS.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

gratefully yours, Dr Aletha

Dr. Charles Krauthammer- eternal Washington Nationals fan

When I read Charles Krauthammer book, Things That Matter, one of the most important things I learned wasn’t about politics, medicine, or ethics, subjects he knew well and wrote about often. I learned that he was a die hard Washington Nationals baseball fan.

When I read Dr. Krauthammer’s book, Things That Matter, one of the most important things I learned wasn’t about politics, medicine, or ethics, subjects he knew well and wrote about often. I learned that he was a die hard Washington Nationals baseball fan.

Now I don’t follow baseball, but from what he explained, they have a reputation for not being a good team. Nevertheless, he attended the games regularly (remember, he had to use a wheelchair due to quadriplegia) and supported them wholeheartedly.

Nationals in the baseball World Series

So here it is fall of 2019 and his beloved team is in the World Series, first time ever. In an interview, his son Daniel said this.

“He would have loved it. He would have been as happy as a little kid. He went to nearly all the Nationals home games for the whole time they were in D.C. He would have been at every playoff game.”

Daniel Krauthammer

Daniel edited Dr. Charles’ final book, The Point of it All, published after his death. I review that book below.

Here is a link to Daniel’s interview with Fox News.

Charles Krauthammer’s son reflects on dad’s love for Washington Nationals as team plays first World Series

If you wondered why Pulitzer prize winning journalist Charles Krauthammer quit his medical career to write a political column for the Washington Post newspaper, you’ll learn the answer in his newest and sadly last book. He explained

“I left psychiatry to start writing…because I felt history happening outside the examining room door. I wanted to…because some things matter, some things need to be said, some things need to be defended.”

A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors

Dr. Charles Krauthammer died in 2018. In 2016 he started a new book but in 2017 was diagnosed with cancer. Treatment was initially successful, but multiple serious complications kept him hospitalized for many months during which he continued writing with his son Daniel’s and his wife Robyn’s help.

But the cancer recurred and this time further treatment would not be successful. We can thank Daniel for honoring his father’s dying wishes and finishing the book and facilitating the publication of The Point of It All.

Daniel wrote a helpful introduction to the book, explaining how it was put together. He also offered some personal reflections about his relationship with his father, and some insight into Dr. Krauthammer’s character and personality that he tended to keep private.

“My father’s writing…is not just thought-provoking but also feeling-provoking. His writing opens the mind, combining passion with intelligence, beauty with concreteness. “

Book outline

The book collects some of Dr. Krauthammer’s Washington Post columns, transcripts of speeches he gave, and text of a book on foreign policy that he was writing but had not published.

Most casual readers of Krauthammer will want to read Part I-People, where he discusses such diverse topics as

  • Ronald Reagan
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Australia
  • Memorials
  • Chess and Sports
  • The space program
  • Medicine
  • Part II -Man and Society
  • Part III-Politics, Foreign and Domestic
  • Part IV-Competing Visions-America’s Role and the Course of World History
  • Part V-Speaking in the First Person

You can read the book straight through, or skip around, reading whatever chapter titles catch your attention. It was hard for me to pass up titles like

  • Why I love Australia
  • Man vs. Computer:Still a Match
  • Pluto and Us
  • They Die with Their Right On
  • Thought Police on Patrol
  • Just Leave Christmas Alone
  • The Climate Pact Swindle
  • Beauty and Soul

My favorite part of this book was the shortest-Part V, the few essays he wrote about himself, something Daniel said he didn’t like to do and would not have included.

“I’ve never wanted to make myself the focus of my career.”

And so in Beauty and Soul, he credits his wife of over 40 years with his success.

Her (Robyn’s) beauty and soul have sustained me these many years. I was merely the scribe.

Dr. Krauthammer, upon accepting a writing award


As a physician, I am intrigued and inspired knowing  Dr. Krauthammer completed medical school and residency after and despite sustaining a spinal cord injury which caused quadriplegia (paralysis from the neck down, preventing use of his arms and legs).   (This no doubt made his treatment and recovery from cancer surgery all the more difficult.) 

According to his son Daniel, his father also did not like to publicize or dwell on his or anyone else’s disability. He preferred to focus on what he could do, not on what he couldn’t do.

This excerpt is from a Washington Post column that is included in this book.

After watching videos in which  The price of fetal parts was discussed over lunch, Dr. Krauthammer wrote

“Abortion critics have long warned that the problem is not only the obvious — what abortion does to the fetus — but also what it does to us.

It’s the same kind of desensitization that has occurred in the Netherlands with another mass exercise in life termination: assisted suicide. It began as a way to prevent the suffering of the terminally ill. It has now become so widespread and wanton that one-fifth of all Dutch assisted-suicide patients are euthanized without their explicit consent.

ultrasound image of a 4 month old fetus
a prenatal ultrasonographic image of fetus at the four-month point in its gestation; public domain image used courtesy of the CDC/ Jim Gathany

There is more division about the first trimester because one’s views of the early embryo are largely a matter of belief, often religious belief.

One’s view of the later-term fetus, however, is more a matter of what might be called sympathetic identification — seeing the image of a recognizable human infant and, now, hearing from the experts exactly what it takes to “terminate” its existence.

The role of democratic politics is to turn such moral sensibilities into law. This is a moment to press relentlessly for a national ban on late-term abortions.”

THINGS THAT MATTER: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics

My review of his memoir THINGS THAT MATTER has been one of my most viewed posts. If you haven’t read it I recommend it also.

Charles Krauthammer-THINGS THAT MATTER

I enjoyed listening to  Dr. Krauthammer’s memoir THINGS THAT MATTER: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics  

This book is a collection of  his more memorable opinion pieces as well as a memoir of his life, including medical school, his life-changing injury, psychiatric medical practice, his  journalism career, hobbies (chess and baseball) and life with his family.

A life with no regrets

Dr. Krauthammer wrote his last piece for The Washington Post barely two weeks before his death and that post concludes his final book. Dr. Krauthammer wrote,

“I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”

Thanks for exploring the HEART of health with me.

Thanks for reviewing the life of the late Charles Krauthammer with me. Please share your reactions to Dr. Krauthammer’s work and share this post with your friends.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

Dr Aletha

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