Milwaukee native Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, who died Jan. 31, 2021, has left us with the knowledge that we must make use of our gifts, said his brother Rabbi Michel Twerski, who leads Congregation Beth Jehudah on Milwaukee’s West Side.
Abraham “took his talents and his gifts seriously, not himself,” Michel said, adding that his brother didn’t go looking for credit. “In that regard, he was a very great disciple of my father, blessed be my father ... he had no great need to be honored.”
The Twerski brothers were born into a family of incomparably distinguished rabbinic stock, descended on their father’s side from Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky, the founder of the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty also known the Me’or Einayim. Michel went on to lead Milwaukee’s observant West Side Jewish community, among other pursuits. Abraham authored many books and, as a physician, became a leading authority on drug treatment and addiction.
Abraham’s death brought Michel forward to share memories of his brother. He recounted a core lesson Abraham left behind during a Feb. 4 Zoom session attended by about 1,000 people, with more watching on YouTube.
Abraham was 90 and had been battling COVID-19 in Israel, according to Yeshiva World News.
Use your gifts
From Abraham, we can learn to use “whatever talents we have, whatever gifts hashem has given us,” Michel said.
“I think that it is absolutely essential that we don’t become couch potatoes, that we don’t sink into the cushions,” Michel said. Learn this from Abraham, he said: “There are things I can do, things I can become.”
Michel added that even if you don’t have quite so many gifts as Abraham, everyone has gifts worth pursuing.
“The human spirit needs to be productive, needs to be creative,” Michel said. “In truth, those are the things that are going to overcome that terrible vast emptiness that is really the precursor of all addictions.”
A noted Judaic scholar in his own right, Abraham was among the last of a breed of rabbinic authorities who also achieved recognized expertise in secular subjects and frequently presented at academic and professional conferences in the full Hasidic garb he wore every day. He graduated from medical school in 1960 and spent two decades as the clinical director of the psychiatry unit at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh. In 1972, he founded Gateway Rehab in Pittsburgh, where he served as medical director emeritus.
Abraham wrote more than 60 books, most of which were aimed at Jewish audiences but some of which were published by mainstream publishers for a general audience. His books addressed both religious subjects as well as a range of self-help topics — including happiness, self-esteem, and marital issues — and sometimes both. He was also a fan of the comic strip “Peanuts” and authored two books with its creator, Charles Schultz.
Abraham was a vocal proponent of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose 12 steps he found entirely consonant with Jewish teachings, despite its origins in Christian thought. He even defended the practice of attending AA meetings in church basements, something many strictly observant Jews are loath to do.
But Abraham was more than his professional accomplishments, or even his lived example that gifts from hashem should be utilized. He was also a brother.
Michel recounted how his brother was there “when we needed a shoulder to cry on or some advice to bank on.” He recalled playing baseball with him, making a snowman and building a snow fort.
One can’t always recall all the specifics of the memories, but “there’s no question that they are there as a fire burning in the hearth.”