June 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Remembering Rabbi Twerski, zt”l

Our beloved Rabbi Doctor Abraham Twerski, zt”l passed away on January 31, 2021, in a Jerusalem hospital. He lived in Israel the last five years of his life. This is a great loss for the recovery community as well as the Jewish community. It is a heartache for his family, his patients, students, rabbis and clinicians who were inspired by his work and his personality.

I recall seeing Rabbi Twerski at a JACS retreat and was pleased to attend a session of his at a professional forum. Rabbi Twerski (many referred to him as “Abe”) worked with thousands of addicts in recovery and many of their relatives at Gateways Rehabilitation Center as well as in private practice. He was a learned Torah scholar and a highly acclaimed psychiatrist, who possessed a peaceful, caring demeanor. He had a radiant face, yet there was not a glimmer of entitlement about him. He was soft spoken and conducted a calm cadence of oration. It was as though you were listening to your grandfather on the couch in the living room. Yet occasionally he would raise his voice to emphasize an idea in a moving manner to drive it home. In this lecture, he shared the need for people to have self-esteem, and how the lack of this trait is responsible for many mental health conditions. In his talk, he paused and lowered his voice just a drop and shared about a time in his life in which he was working extremely hard and needed a mini vacation. He located a nearby spa to get away for the afternoon. He shared that he was sure this would be therapeutic on many levels and registered for a relaxing treatment. He shared that when he entered the facility he was led into a small cubicle and invited to immerse himself in a whirlpool bath. “This was paradise!” “Not only was I comforted by the warm, swirling waters, but I was also beyond anyone’s reach. The emergency room, social workers, police, nurses, doctors, lawyers and patients and their families could not reach me. I just relaxed in what was heaven on earth.” He admitted that after six to seven minutes he emerged from the bath and remarked to the attendant how wonderful the experience had been, just what he needed. The attendant politely told him that he had to return to the bath, since the treatment began with soaking for 25 minutes in the mineral water—adding that if he did not stay for 25 minutes, he could not continue with the next phase of the treatment. Rabbi Twerski shared: “What had begun as heaven, was now purgatory. Each minute seemed like an hour, and the final 10 minutes of the bath was an eternity, barely tolerable.” He confessed in his talk that in retrospect, he believes that he was unable to tolerate the pleasure of the solitude and the whirlpool for more than seven minutes due to his lack of self-esteem. He shared that he was so accustomed to constant work and being there for others that he experienced stress when he had time to pamper himself. This shared vulnerability was captivating for most of the audience. It was a moment where many present had a chance to witness the humanness of one of the greatest contributors to the recovery world.

Rabbi Twerski shared about his upbringing and personal life. He revealed to us that his father never believed in spoiling children, only indulging them. He shared that he believes he was parented correctly; that his father never scolded him in public; however, he took him aside once when his misbehavior was not quite respectful and told him “it’s not the best you.”

Rabbi Twerski taught by his presence and through his books how to identify and vanquish our self-defeating behaviors in order to be our best selves and to fill the roles we have in our lives. He established a relationship with Charles Schultz, creator of Peanuts cartoons, and included psychological, intriguing comic strips in a few of his books, depicting existential humor.

We love Rabbi Twerski because he was able to be clear about life being challenging and recovery being nearly impossible—but possible. He was able to transpire lofty medical and psychological terms to a simple level of understanding with a seasoning of hope. We are gifted by Rabbi Twerski’s mass contribution of books. Here is a current list:

Dear Rabbi, Dear Doctor, Seize the Moments, Self-Improvement? I’m Jewish! I am, Simcha, It’s Not Just Happiness, I’d Like to Call For Help, But I Don’t Know the Number, Effective living, Letters To My Children, Self-Discovery In Recovery, Four Chassidic Masters, From Pulpit To Couch, Not Just Stories, Without A Job, Who Am I? Like Yourself, Rebbes and Chassidim, It’s Not As Tough As You Think, Successful Relationships, The Rabbi and The Nuns, A Formula For Proper Living, Forgiveness, Messages from the Mishnah, The Shame Born in Silence, Happiness and the Human Spirit, Smiling Each Day, Generation to Generation, The Thin You Within You, The Shabbos Companion, When Do the Good Things Start?, Addictive Thinking and Addictive Personality (with Craig Nakken), Twerski on Spirituality, Twerski on Prayer, Wisdom Each Day, Positive Parenting (with Ursula Schwartz), Living Each Day, I’ve Gotta Get Out of My Way. Addictive Thinking, Haggadah: From Bondage to Freedom, Growing Up, Waking Up Just in Time, Ten Steps of Being Your Best, Prayerfully Yours, In laws (with Leah Shifrin Averick), The Spiritual Self, Visions of The Fathers.

Rabbi Twerski admitted candidly that he did have an addiction; with a pause, and a twinkle in his eye he said: writing books.

May his wisdom, humor and compassion continue to inspire us to being the best version of ourselves one day at a time.


Michelle Lesher is a licensed clinical social worker and licensed alcohol and drug counselor. She was the director of the Substance Use program at The Bridge and the Coordinator of the Substance Use Program at Specialized Therapy Associates. She is currently in private practice. She has been working in the field of mental health and recovery for over 13 years assisting individuals, couples and families.

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