Thursday, December 02, 2021

Among the giants of the Jewish world lost to us through the COVID-19 pandemic was Rabbi Avraham Joshua Heschel Twerski, zt”l. His petira on January 31, 2021, at the age of 90, left a gaping hole in the worlds of Chassidus and mental health. Using a rare combination of the world of the Baal Shem Tov and state-of-the art treatment of alcoholism and drug-addiction, Rav Twerski left a legacy of over 90 works that revolutionized the Torah world in its approach to many aspects of mental health including self-esteem, personal growth and spirituality.

In keeping his legacy alive and continuing his unique approach to medical and spiritual healing, The Avraham J. Twerski Learning Center was recently established in Ramat Beit Shemesh, hosted by Beit Knesset Menorat Hamaor. Rav of the congregation is Rabbi Daniel Myers, son of Rabbi Twerski’s wife Dr. Gail Bessler, tibadel l’chaim.

During the course of his lengthy professional career, Rav Twerski served as a physician and a rabbinic figure. He founded the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh and served as its director. At St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh he served as clinical director and was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. He was the founder of the Shaar Hatikvah Rehabilitation Center for prisoners in Israel.

In his rabbinic career Rav Twerski was a prolific writer of Jewish books and presented thousands of shiurim. He served along with his father, Rabbi Jacob Israel Twerski, as spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Jehudah from the time of his semicha in 1951 until 1959. In Rav Twerski’s clinical career, he specialized in alcoholism and addiction, and much of his writing concerned self-improvement and ethical behavior. He famously merged mussar, Jewish ethics and morality, and the Twelve-Step Program in combating addictions.

After retiring from full-time work in 1985, Rav Twerski moved to Monsey and Teaneck, and 10 years ago made aliyah with wife Gail to Yerushalayim. Over the past 20 years, even while still living in the U.S., the Twerskis would spend many Shabbatot in Ramat Beit Shemesh where Rav Twersky would daven for the amud at Menorat Hamaor, give shiurim and hold a tisch at the Myers’ home. During those years, he would regularly lead theYom Kippur Neilah tefillah powerfully and passionately.

Rabbi Danny Myers, stepson-in-law of Rav Twersky, made aliyah in 2001 from Far Rockaway, where he had served as a rebbe at the Rambam Yeshiva High School. He settled in Ramat Beit Shemesh, where he soon became the rav of Menorat Hamaor, a new shul that had been established by South African and Anglo olim. His mission was to expand the learning and bring new programs to the community.

In 2016, Dr. Mort Barr, formerly of East Brunswick, made aliyah from Atlanta and settled close to the shul. Retired from a career as a chemist for consumer products for over 40 years, Barr had been involved in Jewish communal affairs including serving as the lay leader of NCSY’s Youth Commission; executive director of Congregation Beth Jacob, one of Atlanta’s largest congregations; and founder of the Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta. Upon settling in Ramat Beit Shemesh he immediately became involved in Beit Knesset Menorat Hamaor and now serves as chairman of the board.

With the tragic passing of Rav Twerski in January 2021, Barr and the other congregants of Menorat Hamaor suggested to Rabbi Myers that a fitting tribute to this unique scholar would be a learning center at the shul to carry on his legacy. Thus, the AJT Learning Center was planned to be a global hub for lectures, shiurim, classes, workshops and educational materials on the subject of personal and spiritual growth.

The Center was established in March 2021, followed by an official website in July. The opening lecture was held on October 13 to an in-person audience of 160 and an additional virtual audience of 120 from Israel as well as India, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S. The speakers, who were selected in consultation with the larger Twerski family, were Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Friedman, a psychiatrist from Boston; and Rabbi Chaim Twerski, grandson of Rav Twerski. Both speakers eloquently addressed the concept of “growth through adversity,” which was a recurring theme in the books and lectures of Rav Twerski.

The second lecture, on November 7, featured noted author and storyteller Rav Chanoch Teller. Once again, 160 were in attendance and 120 online. As of November, the database of the AJT Learning Center boasts 700 subscribers who receive weekly divrei Torah dealing with self-esteem, character development, achieving happiness and determining purpose in life, based upon the lectures and writings of Rav Twerski.

Expressing great hope for the future of the Avraham J. Twerski Learning Center, Mort Barr said: “Rabbi Tweski continues to live inside the AJT Learning Center. We are creating a home for his legacy and the vast corpus of his teachings, from which we will gain wonderful insights into his guidance for our generation and generations to come.”

Planning for an outstanding first yahrzeit program in January is currently underway in consultation with Rabbi Myers; the larger Twerski family; brother Rabbi Michel Twerski of Beth Jehudah Synagogue in Milwaukee; Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union; Rabbi Chanoch Teller, noted author, orator and educator; and Rabbi Jay Marcus, founder and dean of Reishit, Beit Shemesh.

To learn more about the AJT Learning Center and to subscribe to lectures and weekly divrei Torah, visit www.twerskicenter.org or contact Mort Barr at [email protected]

By Pearl Markovitz


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