In October 1934, the Jewish General Hospital opened its doors in Montreal, a bittersweet ending to a difficult year for Jews in the medical profession. Only months earlier, between June 14th and 18th, the interns at the Notre-Dame Hospital commenced Canada’s first-ever medical strike, demanding that the appointment of Dr. Samuel Rabinovitch as a senior intern be rescinded. Rabinovitch, who came from a family of Jewish doctors, had graduated at the top of his class from Université de Montréal; the striking interns demanded that a French-Canadian fill the post. During the four-day strike, the hospital operated significantly under capacity as the doctors worked overtime to treat patients. The strike spread to four other hospitals, bringing the total to an estimated seventy-five picketing interns. With the threat of some two hundred nurses going on strike as well, Rabinovitch resigned on June 18.
In his resignation letter to its board of directors, Rabinovitch praised the hospital’s “very fine stand” on the matter, and “bemoan[ed] the fact that so many French Canadian Physicians, namely graduates, should have ignored the first duty of their oath.” Despite the pressure to retain his position, especially from many members of the Montreal Jewish community, Rabinovitch hoped they would remember, “Care of the sick has always been of first importance with the Jewish people.” Rabinovitch accepted an internship in St. Louis, Missouri, returning to Montreal in 1940, where he practiced into his nineties. He died at age 101 in 2010.
The fallout from the strike not only affected the hospital, which stopped hiring Jews, but also its partner university. Université de Montréal’s attitudes toward Jewish enrolment also “adapted” to the changing atmosphere of 1930s Quebec. McGill University’s informal Jewish quota was setting an example, and antisemitism was generally at its most pervasive in this decade. These pressures, in the aftermath of the Notre-Dame strike, led to the Université de Montréal’s administration changing its formal policy to increase the restrictions on Jewish enrolment. Institutionalized antisemitism only dissipated after World War II.
Compiled by Sarah Woolf
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*Images courtesy of the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives.