MONTREAL — Lawrence Rosenberg, who is in the forefront of the Jewish General Hospital’s defiance of Bill 60, indicated to his fellow physicians that he’s not one to back down from a fight.
Rosenberg, who was the chief of surgical services, became the executive director of the JGH this month, just as the hospital entered into an open challenge to Quebec’s secularism charter, which it terms “patently discriminatory.”
He succeeds Hartley Stern who left in September after five years.
Speaking at a Combined Jewish Appeal event organized by the Maimonides Society at the JGH on Nov. 13, Rosenberg related that he is descended from a long line of chassidic rabbis.
His great-grandfather was Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg, a renowned Talmudist and Kabbalist, and “a bit of a rebel,” he said.
Rabbi Rosenberg was a key figure in what became known as Montreal’s “kosher meat wars” in the 1920s – a battle over control of supervision of kosher meat and poultry abbatoirs.
“He took on the Vaad in an argument over selling chickens. That’s my heritage,” said Rosenberg, a kippah-wearing Orthodox Jew.
Rabbi Rosenberg, the “dissident chief rabbi,” was at loggerheads with the official chief rabbi of the newly formed Vaad Ha’ir, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Cohen.
Rosenberg is a cousin of the late writer Mordecai Richler, who was also not known for shrinking from speaking his mind.
On Nov. 13, the JGH confirmed that, if the bill passes, it will not apply for the “transition period” offered to hospitals to give them time to comply with the law, implicitly signalling that it does not intend to impose the ban on religious wear among its employees.
Federal Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney applauded the JGH for its “principled stand on freedom of conscience and religion.”
“By speaking out against this discriminatory ‘charter’, the JGH is standing by our country’s spirit of inclusiveness and tolerance, and the constitutional protection to which all Canadians are entitled,” Kenney stated. “Newcomers have a duty to integrate, but forcing someone to choose between their faith or their job is unacceptable – a Canadian is no less Canadian because he or she wears a kippah, a cross, a turban, or a hijab.”
The minister of state for multiculturalism, Tim Uppal, reiterated that, if Bill 60 becomes law, the government of Canada will protect Quebecers’ constitutional rights.
“The Harper government has been very clear: nobody should be denied a job based on criteria unrelated to that job,” he stated.
In the official announcement on Nov. 6 of his appointment, Rosenberg stated, “As executive director, I appreciate that I am being called upon to preserve the underlying values of our community that are deeply embedded in the hospital and which have been a key driving force of achievement for decades.”
Hospital president Rick Dubrovsky stated: “Dr. Rosenberg is an ideal choice, given his in-depth skills as a physician and administrator. We look forward to benefiting from his medical insights and leadership skills to make patient care even better, while enabling the JGH to play a leading role in working with its partners across Montreal and Quebec to strengthen the public health-care system.”
Since joining the JGH in 2007, Rosenberg has also served as director of its Transformational Change program, the goal of which is to improve operational efficiency.
At McGill University, he is a professor of surgery and medicine and holds the A.G. Thompson Chair of Surgical Research.
Rosenberg was instrumental in arranging for JGH patients to undergo simple surgery at LaSalle General Hospital.
He was also the driving force behind Quebec’s first use of the Surgical Safety Checklist, a procedure followed before each operation.
In addition, Rosenberg introduced NSQIP – the quality improvement program of the American College of Surgeons – to the JGH, the first hospital in Quebec to adopt this program.
“Under his guidance, the quality of surgical services has seen significant improvement,” said Dubrovsky. “As well, staff across the hospital have been taking the initiative to introduce innovative measures that make the JGH much more efficient and cost-effective.”
Rosenberg received his medical education at McGill. He holds an MSc and PhD in experimental surgery from that university and completed post-doctoral studies and a surgical fellowship in transplantation at the University of Michigan.
He also received an MEng from the University of Waterloo, concentrating on knowledge management and innovation.
As director of the multi-organ transplant program at the Montreal General Hospital, Rosenberg inaugurated McGill’s pancreas transplant program and led the team that performed the first successful liver transplant at McGill.
He remains the only Canadian to have received the prestigious American Surgical Association Foundation Fellowship.