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SchactersBy MYRON LOVE
It was almost a full house at the Berney Theatre on Thursday, June 22, for the third in a series of presentations by Winnipeg Jewish doctors about the history of Manitoba Jewish medicine. The lecture series is part of the upcoming Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada’s archive and book project covering a Century of Manitoba Jewish physicians.

As with the earlier presentations, Jordan Bass, archivist at the Rady Faculty of Medical Archives at the University of Manitoba, provided an update on the project. He observed that the history of Jewish physicians in Manitoba is underrepresented in the medical school archives, a situation that A Century of Manitoba Jewish physicians (CMJP) is planning to rectify.
“We are compiling an archive of names of Manitoba Jewish physicians for the website – we currently have 520 listed with biographical material on 201 – and we are trying to secure further funding to make sure that this digital archive is sustainable,” Bass said.
The first speaker was family physician Dr. Ray Singer, who provided an entertaining talk on early Manitoba male Jewish physicians circa the 1880s-1930s. The first doctor that Singer spoke about was Dr. Hiram Vineberg, the first Jewish doctor to practice in the province. Originally from Montreal, Vineberg earned his MD in 1878, then, following a couple of years circling the globe as a ship’s doctor (with a stop at a leper colony in Hawaii), he appeared in Portage La Prairie in 1881. He served as a doctor in Portage for three years before departing for a year of further training in Europe. He practised for most of his life in New York as a gynecologist.
Singer noted that the first Jewish immigrants to Winnipeg came in the early 1880s and settled in the Point Douglas area. The Jewish population in Winnipeg numbered 1,500 in 1904 and surpassed 10,000 by 1912. He described a community steeped in Yiddishkeit and social activism – a milieu that was reflected in the lives of the Jewish doctors of the era. Some, such as Drs. Victor, Pearlman, Ginsburg, Genoff were born and educated in Russia. Others – including Drs. Oscar Margolese, Max Rady, Solomon Kobrinsky, B.J. Ginsburg and Abram Bercovitch, grew up in Canada and/or received their medical training here.
Many of those early doctors were renaissance men – poets, scholars and philosophers – as well as doctors. Ginsburg, along with Isaac Pearlman and Ben Victor, were among the founders of the I.L. Peretz School. The doctors were devoted to their patients and their communities and helped open the doors to medical practice to younger members of the Jewish community.
Singer quoted excerpts from the memoirs of early Jewish physician Sam Peikoff. His family lived in the western Manitoba community of Rossburn. Singer told one story of Peikoff, then in practice in Rossburn, being called to a farm one late winter evening to treat a young man suffering from acute appendicitis. When the doctor began trying to organize one of the rooms in the house to do surgery, the young man’s mother took offence and vowed that she “wasn’t going to let a Jew re-arrange her furniture”.
Peikoff left and only agreed to return a couple of days later when the patient’s condition worsened and the mother agreed to recite a prayer that “the Jew would be able to successfully cure her son”.
Forever after, the family swore by Dr. Peikoff, Singer concluded.
Next up was endocrinologist Dr. Isanne Schacter, who provided an overview of the early Jewish women in medicine. As is not uncommon, Schacter hails from a family of doctors. Both her parents, Brent Schacter and Sora Ludwig, are doctors; her younger sister, Jennifer, recently earned her MD designation. In addition, her uncle Louis Ludwig is a doctor, as was her zaida, Joe Ludwig.
Until recent years, women practising medicine were rare indeed. Dr. Nathan Wiseman, the MC for the evening and the chairperson of the CMJP project, noted in his introduction of Schacter, that there were no Jewish women in his own graduating class of 1968. On the other hand, in his daughter Dr. Marni Wiseman’s graduating class of 1996, more than half the class was female and half of that cohort was Jewish.
Schacter (who is the youngest member of the CMJP committee) noted that in the early days, Jewish women faced two challenges in pursuing a medical career: being a woman and being Jewish. In the early years of the 20th century – pre-World War I, she pointed out, there were only four woman in practice who were graduates of the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine.
“Both Jewish medical students and female medical students used to be segregated from the other medical students,” Schacter said. “And Dr. Mathers (the notorious medical dean who initiated the quota system in effect at the medical college during the ‘30s and ‘40s) actively tried to discourage Jewish women from applying to the medical school.”
The first Jewish woman to practice medicine in Manitoba, Schacter noted, was Sophie Granovsky, a 1919 graduate who practised in the old north end for a couple of years before moving on to Calgary, then Israel and, finally, Chicago.
Schacter then spoke about Dr. Sara Meltzer, who graduated in 1924, joined the staff of the Winnipeg General Hospital and became a leading cancer researcher. Unfortunately, her career was cut short when she died at an early age as a result of cancer.
Dorothy Hollenberg graduated in 1928. She worked at the Children’s Hospital and established a private practice in partnership with her husband, Dr. Joseph Hollenberg. As a paediatrician, she used to offer baby classes in her own home.
Her sister-in-law, Esther Hollenberg (a 1938 graduate) also became a doctor and practised with her husband, Dr. Jacob Hollenberg, at the Hollenberg Clinic. Like Sara Meltzer, Esther Hollenberg also passed away at an early age.
Esther Hollenberg’s classmate, Dr. Mindel Cherniack Sheps enjoyed a career that put her head and shoulders above almost every other doctor – male or female - in the history of our province. As Schacter noted, Sheps was an early advocate for birth control. She was a founder of the CCF, a Winnipeg school trustee (in the early 1940s) and a fighter for women’s rights.
In 1944, Mindel and her husband, Dr. Cecil Sheps, were invited to Saskatchewan by the newly elected administration of Premier Tommy Douglas to help bring in medicare in that province.
Her career path later took her to academia in the United States, where she became an internationally known leader in the fields of statistics and demographics. In 1972, her alma mater awarded her an honorary doctorate in Science.
Among other early female Jewish doctors that Schacter noted were Drs. Gladys Nitikman and Bella Kobrinsky. Schacter also mentioned the names of a large and growing number of Jewish women who are currently practising medicine in our community.
The evening’s third vignette was an overview of the career of Dr. Morley Cohen, a pioneer in cardiac surgery in Winnipeg, who performed the first open heart surgery here in 1959. He served as head of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery from its inception in 1967 to 1984. His contributions to the development of cardiac surgery in Manitoba were commemorated in 2014 with the dedication of a plaque and a conference room in his memory in the I.H. Asper Clinical Research Institute, which houses the cardiac sciences program at the St. Boniface Hospital.
The overview of Cohen’s career was presented by Dr. Alan Menkis, Director of Cardiovascular Health and Research in Manitoba and Medical Director of the WRHA Cardiac Sciences Program.
Cohen’s daughter, Trish, was in the audience at the Berney Theatre and was invited on stage to provide a more personal view of her father. She described him as a shy man of few words who rarely discussed his work at home.
“It was only when I became a nurse and started working with him that I began to appreciate what an outstanding surgeon and doctor he was,” she said.
The lecture series is meant to enrich the CMJP book project “ A Century of Manitoba Jewish Physicians”, which is being written by noted author Eva Wiseman.
For further information about how to contribute to the project contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
“We would like to compile on our website a list of all the Jewish doctors who have been in practice in Manitoba over the past 100 years,” said Dr. Jo Swartz, who is a member of the steering committee. “The email of our Archival website where direct entries may be made is

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#1 MsAriel Lee 2017-07-11 20:32
I would like to know when the next one is. I would like to attend. It sounds like a wonderful informative event.