For the first time ever, a comprehensive history of the contributions Jews have made to the field of medicine in Manitoba has been written.
On Nov. 3, Eva Wiseman officially launched her latest book, Healing Lives: A Century of Manitoba Jewish Physicians, to an overflow crowd of more than 250 people at the Berney Theatre in Winnipeg. For the award-winning author, her new book is a major departure from her previous works.
In the past, Wiseman has largely written Jewish-themed historical fiction aimed at young adults. Healing Lives is her first work of non-fiction. In it, she chronicles the lives and contributions of Jewish doctors who have practiced in Manitoba over the past 100 years.
“I have always been around doctors,” she says about why she decided to tackle the subject. “My husband (Nathan Wiseman) is a doctor. My sister and brother-in-law, Agi Veres and Sam Weizman, in Toronto, are doctors. My daughter, Marni, and son, Sam, are doctors. And I, too, almost became a doctor. I was accepted into medicine but got married instead. In the late 1960s, most married women didn’t go into medicine.”
The project came about as a result of a social outing that Wiseman and her husband had with Abe and Barbara Anhang in 2015, in a kosher restaurant in Florida. Abe Anhang, who has long been associated with the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada (JHC), suggested that a book be written to chronicle the contributions Jewish doctors have made to medicine in Manitoba.
Nathan Wiseman observed that very little had been written in the past about Jewish physicians and thought that it was a worthy project for the JHC. He suggested that Jordan Bass, an archivist at the University of Manitoba’s Max Rady College of Medicine, create an archive of Jewish doctors who have practiced in the province over the last 140 years.
After returning home, Nathan Wiseman and Abe Anhang established a committee to oversee the creation of the archive and the writing of a book outlining the role of Jewish doctors in the medical history of Manitoba.
Eva Wiseman applied to the committee to author the book and signed the contract in 2016.
“I appreciate that the committee had enough faith in me that they chose me to write this book and were very supportive,” she says. “I was able to write the book my own way.”
She thought it was a story that was worth telling. “But I didn’t realize how big a task researching and writing Healing Lives was going to be. First, there were the sheer number of people that I had to interview. The goal of the project was to include all Jewish physicians who have ever practiced in Manitoba. We have over 400 in the book,” she says.
“And because there was very little written material, I had to do a great many oral interviews. I had the help of an archival student as my researcher.”
The 520-page book includes an introduction by Irving Abella and Brian Postl, the dean of the Max Rady College of Medicine.
Healing Lives is divided into 21 chapters, beginning with the first Jewish doctors in the province and their struggles. Subsequent chapters focus on the development of medicine in the province, individual specialties and the contributions Jewish doctors have made to the social fabric of the Jewish community and the province.
Wiseman says that there will be a second launch of Healing Lives at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg on Dec. 8 at 2 p.m., and further book launches in Toronto and Vancouver some time in the spring.
Now that she has completed Healing Lives, Wiseman says that she is going to take the next six months off. “I already have some ideas for my next book,” she says.