Dr. Avi Rosenberg hailed as a Maccabee of medicine

Dr. Avi Rosenberg
Dr. Avi Rosenberg (Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine)

When asked what drew him to becoming a doctor, Avi Rosenberg said that it was his fascination with the science of the human body fused with his faith as a religious Jew.

It “was the combination of the elegance of physiology and, as a religious person growing up in a religious community, the recognition of a spiritual imprint in all of creation,” said Rosenberg, a member of The Shul at the Lubavitch Center. “And to be able to blend the spiritual world with the material world, to be able to observe, directly, the creative process.”

Describing himself as a “kidney and pediatric pathologist,” Rosenberg, 41, does clinical work at Johns Hopkins Hospital and research at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He lives in Pikesville with his wife Dr. Aryela Rosenberg, a dentist, and the two have raised nine children.

Rosenberg grew up in an Orthodox family in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended a yeshiva in Borough Park. Enamored with physiology, Rosenberg was around 12 or 13 years old when, in an offhand comment to his orthodontist, he mentioned his interest in the cardiovascular system. The orthodontist happened to be the neighbor of a cardiologist, Dr. Hal Chadow, and offered to introduce Rosenberg to him.

From there, Rosenberg began engaging with doctors in different medical specialties before going on to college. He received his bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry, with minors in anthropology and English literature, from Brooklyn College. He later received his medical degree from Stony Brook University and also earned a Ph.D. in genetics jointly from Stony Brook and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Rosenberg said that working as a doctor during the pandemic was like “sitting on a motorcycle with my mouth open, going 100 miles an hour. It’s been nonstop from March 2020.”

Despite getting calls 24/7, Rosenberg said he is nonetheless “blessed to be part of this machine, to keep things going and to provide care to the broader Baltimore community.”

In addition to Johns Hopkins, Rosenberg also works with Chabad on Call, which provides aid to Chabad emissaries around the world, sometimes in remote locations, who have medical challenges but lack access to American medicine. Those emissaries, their families and the members of their Chabad houses can call a central hotline to connect with different physicians who provide direction and care.

Helping “them navigate complex care in sometimes less-than-complex environments is probably one of the most satisfying things,” Rosenberg said.

“But really, I think that what’s satisfying is not the process of doing it; it’s helping somebody through a very vulnerable time come out on the other side and have the confidence that they’re getting the proper care,” Rosenberg continued. “And that, with God’s help, they can overcome the challenge that they’re facing.”

At the end of November, Chabad on Call presented Rosenberg with an award recognizing his work with the organization during the pandemic. Rosenberg said that eight “heroes” were nominated for the eight nights of Chanukah.

When asked what specifically he received the award for, Rosenberg suggested it was simply for answering his phone, and that he never turns down any phone calls he receives.

In a press release, Rabbi Zalman Spitezki, director of Chabad on Call Baltimore, said that “Chanukah celebrates the victory of the few over the many, the battle of the valiant Maccabees. … Dr. Rosenberg is a shining example of a modern-day Maccabee. We are privileged to have heroes like him in our community.”

In response, Rosenberg said, “I believe that there are many of the few. … There are many people like me, I don’t feel in any way unique or different from the hundreds of thousands of other colleagues and health care professionals who put their lives on hold, and their families’ lives on hold, to respond to all medical crises.

“I’m grateful that I got an award, but I don’t feel like I’m an outstanding example of anything,” Rosenberg continued. “I feel privileged to be part of a community of outstanding individuals.”

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