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Eva Wiseman launching her book Nov. 3

By BERNIE BELLAN
The Berney Theatre was jam packed Sunday afternoon, November 3, as Eva Wiseman launched her long-awaited history of Manitoba Jewish physicians, titled “Healing Lives: A Century of Manitoba Jewish Physicians”.
Those not able to get seats in the theatre itself were able to watch the event in the adult lounge of the Rady JCC on a simulcast especially set up for the occasion.

 

 

 


Of course, it was no surprise that this particular book launch drew such a large crowd, considering that three programs which had been held prior to the November 3 event, and which dealt with various aspects of the history of Jewish physicians in Manitoba, beginning with the first program in June 2016, also drew very large crowds to the Berney Theatre.
The genesis of the project began over four years ago one winter evening in 2015 in Florida when Abe and Barbara Anhang had dinner with Dr. Nathan and Eva Wiseman. It was then that the idea of creating a project focused on gathering together information about Manitoba Jewish physicians first took root.
Eventually, a committee made up mostly of doctors, but also some non-doctors, was formed with the intention of doing two things, according to Dr. Arnold Naimark (who was the first Jewish dean of the University of Manitoba medical school – and the second Jewish president of the U of M), and who introduced Eva Wiseman: “Build up the historical record” of Jewish physicians in Manitoba and, secondly, “publish a book” about Jewish physicians in Manitoba.
In order to accomplish that task though, according to Dr. Naimark, “It was settled early on that it (the book) should be more than a who’s who” of Jewish Manitoba doctors.
“The interweaving of those stories was going to be a complex challenge,” Dr. Naimark added.
To that end, the physicians’ committee set out a number of tasks, including creating an online archive to which physicians still living could give information about their careers, while relatives of deceased physicians could also contribute information. As well, Chana Thau was tasked with interviewing older retired physicians to gather their stories – all of which became part of “Healing Lives: A Century of Manitoba Jewish Physicians”.


In choosing Eva Wiseman to put together the various components that were being assembled as part of this project, Dr. Naimark explained that Eva had been born in Hungary and came to Canada as a young girl.
As a celebrated author of young persons’ fiction, Wiseman had already established herself as a writer of some renown. In addition, Dr. Naimark noted, “Eva has occupied a front row seat in the making of physicians in her own family”. Not only is her husband Nathan a doctor (of pediatrics), so are her two children – Marni, who is a dermatologist, and Sam, who is a surgeon in Toronto.
Dr. Naimark continued: “Eva brought the sensibility of a novelist to bear in making the spirit of a century of Manitoba Jewish physicians come alive.”
Following Dr. Naimark’s introductory remarks, Eva Wiseman herself took to the podium to talk about what went into writing the book.
“I put my soul and heart into this project,” she began. “ ‘Healing Lives’ represents three years of sweat and love on my part.”
“More than 400 Jewish doctors have practiced in Manitoba since Hiram Vineberg first came to Portage la Prairie in 1881,” Eva noted.
“Very little has been written about them,” she explained. (And, as mentioned previously, it was at a Florida restaurant in the winter of 2015 that the idea for the Jewish physicians’ project first took shape.)
“Abe and Nathan organized physicians into different committees that began the project,” Eva said.
Referring to “the deep roots connecting Jewish people to the practice of medicine,” Eva noted that “212 of the 613 mitzvot have to do with health care” in one form or another.
“Most professions – other than medicine and moneylending were closed to Jews,” Eva observed.


And, while Jews had been prominent in the practice of medicine for centuries, the quota system which restricted the number of Jewish entrants into medical schools throughout North America, especially in the 1930s and 40s (and which was known as “numerus clausus”), became a focus of “Healing Lives: A Century of Manitoba Jewish Physicians”, with one entire chapter devoted to that subject alone, Eva said.
Despite the discrimination faced by Jews in gaining entry into the University of Medical School (from 1930-45), Eva noted that two “faith-based” hospitals – St. Boniface and Misericordia, “welcomed Jewish physicians on to their staffs.”
Jewish physicians were also prominent in providing health care free of charge to individuals unable to afford physicians’ services, especially with the founding of the Mt. Carmel Clinic, Eva observed.
At the same time, she explained, “medicine was not a particularly lucrative profession in days gone by” (especially in the first half of the 20th century, when the number of Jewish physicians in Manitoba began to grow), yet “it was a source of pride for many parents” when their children became doctors. (It was at that point that Eva mentioned that both her children had become doctors.)
In writing “Healing Lives: A Century of Manitoba Jewish Physicians”, Eva said she wanted to thank certain individuals in particular, including: Abe Anhang, Ellery Broder, Dr. Jo Swartz, Dr. David Brodovsky, Dr. Arnold Naimark, and University of Manitoba medical school archivist Jordan Bass.
In addition, Eva cited Stan Carbone, Director of Programs & Exhibits at the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada for his contribution to the project, saying that “Stan became an expert on obituaries of Jewish doctors”.


Eva also observed that she knows “of no other province that has shed light on the lives of their Jewish doctors”.
“Most of the research for this book was done through interviews with the doctors themselves and their families,” Eva explained. “If I left out anyone, then I’m sorry – but we’ll get them into the second edition,” she wryly noted.
“There are still doctors who didn’t approach me or about whom we didn’t hear,” Eva added.
“They can still get into the University of Manitoba medical school archives,” however, by going to medheritage.lib.umanitoba.ca. and, once there, add their names to a list of Jewish physicians, both living and deceased, who have practiced medicine in this province.
In summing up what “Healing Lives: A Century of Manitoba Jewish Physicians” is all about, Eva said, “It is a story about Jewish values, especially ‘tikkun olam’.”


At that point, Eva called upon some of her grandchildren, who were in the audience, to take books to various members of the audience, beginning with Abe Anhang.
Following her remarks, Eva moved into the adult lounge of the Rady JCC, where she signed books for over an hour. According to Abe Anhang, 125 books were sold that afternoon. The book is now on sale at McNally Robinson Booksellers and the University of Manitoba book store.
A second launch of the book will be held for the general community on Sunday, December 8, at 2 pm at McNally Robinson’s in the Grant Park Shopping Centre.

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