In September, even at 99, George Manstein read Torah from the bimah at Beth Sholom Congregation on Yom Kippur, as he has every year since the mid-’60s.
Supporting Jewish education and institutions was paramount to Manstein, who died Dec. 2 after a decades-long career in plastic surgery.
He was born in a small village in what is now Ukraine, from which he fled with his family after the Russian revolution. His family stayed in Buenos Aires for a few years before being let into New York in 1922 and ultimately moving to Philadelphia.
He was probably the first person in his family to go to college, according to his son, Mark Manstein. His father went to Central High School — and graduated at just 15 — before attending the University of Pennsylvania and ultimately its medical school.
He studied surgery at Penn and found his way to what is now Einstein Medical Center in 1956 after serving as an anesthesiologist in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War II.
At Einstein, he was its first and only plastic surgeon for many years and served as the chairman of plastic surgery until the 1980s.
His plastic surgery skills extended beyond the United States. He volunteered at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Israel following the Six-Day War for about two months, doing reconstructive work on those injured.
As a result, he became the first non-Israeli admitted to the Israeli Plastic Surgery Society and was named to the board of Shaare Zedek International Board of Governors. Mark Manstein said his father traveled to Israel four to six times a year after that — he went with him maybe 30 times.
George and his late wife, Marial, became major benefactors to the hospital, enough so that the hospital’s plastic and maxillofacial surgery and microsurgical unit is named for them.
Locally, he attended Beth Sholom, where he was a former vice president and trustee and chaired many committees. He took Hebrew classes there on Tuesday nights with Mark when he was 15.
“He was a wise member of our board who could always be counted on for considered, good judgment,” Beth Sholom Executive Director Harvey Friedrich said. “He was really a pillar in the Jewish community.”
“His big thing was Jewish education,” Mark Manstein said. His father was also on the board of Gratz College and what is now Abramson Center for Jewish Life.
The two also practiced together, with Mark Manstein and another brother following in their father’s footsteps. Another two of his five children went into the medical field as well.
In 1955, George Manstein opened George Manstein Plastic Surgical Association. Its name changed to Manstein Plastic Surgical Association when Mark Manstein and his brother joined the practice in the 1980s.
His father, who loved to ski in Vail, was still operating in his 80s.
“It was fantastic,” said Mark Manstein of working with his father. “You’re having office hours together, you’re seeing patients together, you’re doing cases together. … I learned hard work, dedication, treating patients like they’re family, treating patients with respect.”
His father’s specialty was nose jobs, especially in the ’60s and ’70s, but he excelled as a surgeon in many areas.
“He had phenomenal hands. He was not afraid. He was an outstanding surgeon,” he said.
The relationships he built with patients particularly stood out to him.
“The patients loved him, and he loved them,” he said. “My father had the reputation, you had to go to see Dr. Manstein. He was the person everyone had to go see.”
George Manstein is survived by his children Mark, Carl, Robert, Celia and Joanne, 19 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.