Jerusalem, Israel Jan. 31, 2021 - Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, a prolific author, prominent lecturer and trailblazing psychiatrist whose work on addiction, self esteem and other mental health issues was years ahead of its time died today of COVID at Laniado Hospital in Israel at the age of 90.
As previously reported on VIN News, Rabbi Twerski was a direct descendant of the Chernobyler and Sanzer dynasties and was able to trace his family tree all the way back to the Baal Shem Tov.
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He was highly respected in both the Torah and the secular worlds for his work, skillfully weaving a Judaic perspective into hard-hitting issues including addiction, depression, chemical dependency, stress and other sensitive areas. He founded both the Pennsylvania-based Gateway Rehabilitation Center and the Shaar Hatikvah rehabilitation center for Israeli prisoners and served as the clinical director of Pittsburgh’s St. Francis Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of medicine.
Rabbi Dr. Twerski grew up in the 1930s in Milwaukee, and realizing fairly early on that he was not the most athletic of children, he devoted himself to an area where he felt he could excel – his studies. Pittsburgh Quarterly (https://bit.ly/3a3G5dD) reported that he graduated high school at 16 and had earned his rabbinical ordination from Chicago’s Hebrew Theological College by age 21.
Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps by counseling those in crisis but understanding a societal preference for licensed professionals, the then-Rabbi Twerski went to medical school to earn a degree in psychiatry. Having failed to qualify for a scholarship, Rabbi Twerski found himself months behind on his tuition by his third year of medical school, his financial crisis alleviated when television star Danny Thomas paid his $4,000 outstanding bill after reading a news story about a young rabbi who was struggling to pay for his schooling.
Having spent so many years working with those suffering from various addictions, Rabbi Dr. Twerski jokingly noted on many an occasion that he was addicted to writing. In addition to writing on purely psychiatric topics, Rabbi Dr. Twerski wrote many Jewish books as well, with ArtScroll having 50 of his titles in their current catalog.
Rabbi Dr. Twerski also collaborated with Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz on several titles which sold well in the United States and were hugely popular in Japan where Charlie Brown and his loyal beagle Snoopy are beloved characters.
Never one to shy away from problem areas, Rabbi Dr. Twerski tackled difficult topics in an exclusive four part VIN News video series filmed in 2011, discussing internet addiction, rising divorce rates in the Jewish community and contemporary chinuch challenges. In addition to delving into those inherent issues, Rabbi Dr. Twerski also offered hands on techniques to proactively prevent those problems by addressing proper internet usage, preparing children for the responsibilities of adulthood and maintaining religious standards in the workplace.
In words uttered nearly a decade ago, the then 80 year old Rabbi Dr. Twerski spoke about the difficulties of aging, observing that longevity brings with it certain frustrations. Expressing his gratitude that he was still able to think, write, lecture and converse, Rabbi Dr. Twerski discussed the importance of doing one’s utmost at any given moment, returning to VIN seven months later after the publication his Twerski on Machzor Rosh Hashana and announcing plans for a future companion volume on Yom Kippur which was ultimately published in September 2012.
Rabbi Twerski is featured in dozens of YouTube videos tackling a variety of topics, some dating back over a decade ago while several were released just a few months ago.
In addition to his huge influence in the world of mental health, Rabbi Dr. Twerski was also the composer of the well known song Hoshia Es Amecha, written 60 years ago and sung by Jews worldwide. Addressing that particular accomplishment in a VIN News video, Rabbi Dr. Twerski noted that there is perhaps no greater accomplishment that spreading joy throughout the world.
“I am so thrilled that I have had the zechus to give people something they can dance to,” said Rabbi Dr. Twerski.