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Jewish American Heritage Month

VTCSOM celebrates Jewish American Heritage Month by highlighting Jewish physicians and scientists who have helped to advance medical education and patient care.

This year, the profiles were researched and written by Mia Edelson, class of 2025, and Courtney Powell, community and culture manager. 

Abraham Heschel

Abraham Joshua Heschel
1907 - 1972

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century.  Heschel, a professor of Jewish mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, authored a number of widely read books on Jewish philosophy and was a leader in the civil rights movement.

Considered “one of the truly great men” of his day and a “great prophet” by Martin Luther King, Jr., Heschel articulated to many Jewish Americans and African Americans the notion that they had a responsibility for each other’s liberation and for the plight of all suffering fellow humans around the world.

Heschel was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, an advocate for Soviet Jewry and a pioneer of interfaith dialogue. 


Gisella Peri holding a baby

Gisella Perl

Source: 7 Female Jewish Doctors Who Changed History by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

"After deported to Auschwitz in 1944, Romanian gynecologist Gisella Perl provided life-saving health care to hundreds of women. Perl had to convince her father to let her attend medical school. She was living in a ghetto when her family was sent to the largest Nazi concentration camp. While she helped others dealing with a variety of injuries and maladies, her most important work was conducting abortions, particularly for women who had been raped in the camp. Knowing that these women would be killed if their pregnant status was uncovered, Perl performed these procedures in the middle of night with no medical equipment.

Perl was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust and attempted suicide in 1947, but dedicated the rest of her life to overcoming her trauma. She came to the United States and became an advocate for Holocaust remembrance. Her 1948 book, I Was a Doctor in Auschwitzwas one of the first texts documenting the sexual violence that occurred there. Although she had stopped practicing medicine, Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt convinced Perl to return. She focused on infertility, and during her career delivered around 3,000 babies." 

Gerty Theresa Cori

Gerty Theresa Cori 

Source: 7 Female Jewish Doctors Who Changed History by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

"For her research on carbohydrate metabolism, biochemist Gerty Cori became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Born in Prague, Cori met her husband and research collaborator Carl Ferdinand Cori in medical school at the University of Prague. After moving to the United States because of growing anti-Semitism in Europe, she faced difficulties obtaining research positions, despite her husband’s persistence that they work together. They eventually were hired at Washington University in St. Louis, although she made one tenth of his salary.

There, they created the Cori cycle, which explains how lactic acid formed in muscles is converted into glucose. In 1947, they received the Nobel Prize along with Argentine physiologist Bernardo Houssay. This research on metabolic function had implications for aiding those with diabetes and other metabolism-related diseases. In her life, Cori was the fourth women elected to the National Academy of Sciences and was appointed to the National Science Foundation by President Harry S. Truman." 

Selman Waksman holding a flask with a dark liquid

Selman Waksman
(1888 - 1973)


Selman Waksman revolutionized medicine and saved the lives of countless tuberculosis patients with streptomycin, a powerful antibiotic.

As a pioneer in microbiology, Waksman specialized in the study of microbes in soil. He recognized that microorganisms produced many organic substances with unknown properties and created a screening system to isolate and identify those substances with antibiotic properties. By examining thousands of soil samples, his lab identified a number of viable antibiotic drugs. The most important find, streptomycin, provided the first effective treatment for tuberculosis, a disease that had ravaged mankind. Previously, tuberculosis victims were kept in sanitaria where their main treatment was fresh air and a healthy diet.

Waksman's success inspired others to research antibiotics. Royalties from patents generated enormous profits, enabling Waksman to establish and fund the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers University and the Foundation for Microbiology, which now bears his name.

Born near Kiev, in the Ukraine, Waksman traveled to the U.S. to study at Rutgers, later receiving his Ph.D. from the University of California. The recipient of many honors, Waksman won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1952 and is credited with coining the term "antibiotic."


Nobel Prize Biographical Selman Waksman