Growing up, Gerson Schwartz would wake up to find that his father had already left for work, and he wouldn’t return until after Schwartz had already gone to bed.
His father took off of work only about one hour every week — to go to synagogue.
“We never forgot we were Jewish,” Schwartz said. “It was part of our life.”
Schwartz takes inspiration from his upbringing, as well as the teachings of Pirkei Avot, to care for the Jewish community, including by donating to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
“Every Jew is responsible for one another,” said Schwartz, a retired doctor who made his mark with preventative care. “I want to do everything I possibly can to make sure that the state of Israel continues and the Jewish people continue. If we don’t take care of each other, who’s going to take care of us?”
Schwartz grew up in Wynnefield, a mostly Jewish neighborhood until the ’60s. His parents immigrated from Austria and what was then Poland, and the community he grew up in was filled with others who had similar backgrounds and stories.
He decided to pursue medicine. His father, who worked from 7 a.m. to midnight as a grocer, did not have much time to spend with his family, and Schwartz didn’t want to follow in those footsteps.
“I wanted a life that was different, a life that was better, a life I could do a lot more for my children and a lot more for my co-religionists,” Schwartz said.
At the time, some universities limited the number of enrolled Jewish students. This, combined with the cost, made higher education a challenge for Schwartz to obtain.
Soon after World War II, he began attending Temple University, the school that would cost him the least while still allowing him to stay in Philadelphia. He then went on to the Pennsylvania College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Preventative care and nutrition always interested Schwartz. However, when he first started practicing medicine, the idea of preventative care did not yet exist. While most doctors sneered at him, he traveled the country to meet with others who shared his interest in prevention and learn from them.
“The other doctors thought I was meshuggah,” Schwartz said. “Today, it’s old hat. Everyone knows about preventative medicine. Today, it’s called holistic medicine or other kinds of fancy words. Then, I was doing what was right, even though other doctors were laughing at me. I believed in it. I went after it.”
His values factored into his medical practice in other ways as well. When his patients couldn’t afford their prescriptions, he often covered the cost.
Today, Schwartz, who is a member of Congregation Beth El-Ner Tamid in Broomall, has three children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Besides the Jewish Federation, he supports other Jewish organizations, such as AIPAC, and was involved with B’nai B’rith for decades.
This article is part of an occasional series of profiles of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia supporters.