Jews at Pittsburgh Hospital Care for Synagogue Shooter

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By Toby Tabachnick

The fact that Jewish medical professionals often find themselves providing care to anti-Semitic terrorists is nothing new. Israeli physicians do this all the time, sometimes even treating an injured terrorist prior to providing care for his victim, if the terrorist’s injuries are more severe.

But that doesn’t mean those doctors and nurses aren’t feeling “conflicted,” said Jeffrey Cohen, president of Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), where Robert Bowers, the suspected murderer of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life building, was treated for wounds he incurred in a shootout with police.


At least one doctor and one nurse who provided care to Bowers at AGH immediately following the attack on Oct. 27 were Jews. The nurse, who happens to be the son of a rabbi, is also a member of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, one of the three congregations targeted in the attack.

Despite knowing that the man he was treating was arrested for the murder of his fellow congregants, that nurse “did his job,” Cohen said. “He honored his profession and his ethics. We don’t ask a patient who they are or where they came from.”

But the nurse did become emotional after he finished treating Bowers, according to Cohen.

“I thanked him for his work and his help, and I told him he was a mensch. He went home that night and hugged both his parents,” Cohen said.

The Jewish emergency room physician who treated Bowers told Cohen “how conflicted he was and how hard it was, but at the end of the day, [Bowers] was just a patient.”

Bowers allegedly had made violent anti-Semitic comments online, prior to the shooting, and to a SWAT officer. He did not know his clinicians were Jews, Cohen said.  

Personal identity is not a factor for medical professionals, Cohen stressed. All of the doctors and nurses who treated Bowers from the time he entered AGH on Oct. 27, until his release on Oct. 29, “are not going to stoop to the level of doing anything other than they are expected to do. They took care of him.”

Cohen, who is also a member of TOL*OLS and lives in close proximity to the synagogue, went to visit Bowers over the weekend.

“I wanted to make sure he was being taken care of, and that he was comfortable,” Cohen said.

The doctor secured permission from the FBI before he entered Bowers’ hospital room.

“I asked him if he was in any pain, and he said, ‘No, I’m comfortable and not in any pain,’” Cohen recalled. “He asked who I was, and I said, ‘I’m Dr. Cohen, president of the hospital.’”

Bowers did not react to hearing the name “Cohen,” or indicate whether he realized the doctor was Jewish.

“He was just a guy,” Cohen said. “He wasn’t yelling at people; he wasn’t screaming. But my curiosity was, how did he get there? Here was some mother’s son, who had all the hope in the world for him, and he slaughtered 11 people just because they were Jews.”

Cohen’s mother-in-law is a regular attendee at TOL*OLS, and she typically is there to worship on Saturday mornings. The day of the massacre, she had decided to sleep in and was at home, he said.

“But nine of the people who were killed were her friends,” said Cohen. “She is going to nine funerals.”

Cohen had been working in his study the morning of the incident, kitty-corner from the Tree of Life building, when he heard a “series of noises.” At first, he thought that something was falling off a wall downstairs, but a few minutes later, his daughter saw that there were several police cars in front of their house.

Soon after that, she called him downstairs and said there might have been a shooting at the synagogue. Cohen went outside to see if he could help, and texted colleagues at his and other hospitals to let them know that wounded people would be arriving soon.

“If it can happen from my door, it can happen anywhere,” he said. 

Toby Tabachnick is a staff writer at the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.

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