Psychology, Judaism and Charlie Brown: The Layers of Abraham Twerski

October 26, 2012 2:57 am 0 comments

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski speaks in East Hampton, NY this summer. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

EAST HAMPTON, NY—Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski is the scion of the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty, a Torah scholar, and a world-renowned psychiatrist and educator specializing in the treatment of substance abuse. Of all his possible sources of inspiration, comics are not the first that comes to mind.

Yet during a speaking engagement this summer at the East Hampton Jewish Center, Charlie Brown and friends peeked out from under the rabbi’s hoary beard on a bright red necktie.

Indeed, Twerski was paying homage to cartoonist Charles Schulz and his comic strip, Peanuts.

Schulz was “one of the most intuitive psychologists in the United States,” Twerski—who knows a thing or two about that field—toldJNS.org.

“[Schulz] had tremendous insights… [Peanuts character] Linus, he says, is clearly an addict—symbolized by his ever-present blanket,” Twerski said, noting that he had collaborated with Schulz on several books exploring relationships and spirituality and considered him an astute commentator on American society.

In 1972, when few would admit that problems of addiction actually existed in the Jewish community, Twerski founded the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. Forbes magazine has named the facility one of the nation’s top 12 rehabilitation programs.

Gateway specializes in the treatment of alcohol and other drug dependencies; Twerski specializes in the treatment of people. The program he developed incorporates wide-ranging and innovative methodologies, integrating Jewish ethics and morality, concepts of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12 Step” program, traditional clinical psychology, and biochemical treatment. He remains the institution’s guiding spirit as its medical director emeritus. At age 82, he splits his time between America and Jerusalem, where he founded the Shaar Hatikvah Rehabilitation Center for Prisoners in Israel. The rabbi has written or co-authored 60 books.

In the gentle glow of a late morning in the Hamptons, the octogenarian rabbi appeared almost ethereal. Dressed in a formal suit at the informal breakfast under the East Hampton Jewish Center’s backyard tent, the rabbi exuded an aura of respect and dignity. The reverence with which he was approached as he exchanged greetings and shared brief conversations was palpable.

Twerski spoke about very dark topics in the sun-drenched sanctuary. His discussion of the depth of the problems of addiction in the Jewish community—from alcohol to substance abuse to the Internet—appeared to shock many in the audience.

“We are living in unbelievably difficult times…a difficult time to raise adolescent children,” he said.

The program created by Twerski in the treatment of chemical dependency incorporates methodologies developed by AA, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon techniques, programs often perceived as having a “Christian” orientation. Twerski says synagogues “are finally opening their doors to 12 Step meetings.” With wry humor, he noted, “Even if a synagogue has an AA program, going is seen as a shandeh (disgrace). Jews are more likely to attend a meeting in a church where no one will recognize them.”

Twerski expressed his hope that as more synagogues and Jewish institutions are open to AA, that may change.

Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, senior rabbi of the East Hampton Jewish Center, was the rabbi of Central Synagogue of New York City from 1970-1985. Under his leadership, the first AA group to ever meet in a synagogue was invited to the major New York congregation. His outreach to Jewish alcoholics and integration within the healing community was a first for a congregational rabbi.

Twerski says AA program concepts are not “alien to Jewishness” and have great “compatibility” with Jewish theology. His interpretation of the “12 Steps” is an inherently Jewish one. Acknowledgement of a greater power that can restore health and wellbeing is a fundamental Talmudic belief. Recovery, according to Twerski, requires responsibility, and divine help will be forthcoming only when one does his share of the work.

“The Talmud says there is good and evil inclination in every person… The evil inclination seeks absolute freedom, not to be restrained,” he said.

Twerski warned that we are living in a “culture that demands instant gratification.”

“Kids can’t tolerate the least bit of frustration,” he said. Contemporary culture doesn’t pay attention to consequences, but rather allows an “if it feels good, do it” attitude, according to Twerski.

“The pursuit of happiness has become the pursuit of pleasure,” he said.

Asked if at least part of the addiction problems arising in young-adult patients might stem from the rampant use of medication in the treatment of children, Twerski told JNS.org that he is a proponent of discipline, cautioning that the addicted person—child or adult – must feel that self-control is for his or her good, and accept responsibility for actions. As a physician, Twerski also looks at the biochemistry of addiction.

“As long as the brain is affected by chemicals, doctors can do nothing,” he said.

Twerski stressed in his lecture that it is important for the Jewish community as a whole, especially spiritual and communal leaders, to learn more about alcoholism and chemical dependency. He believes the treasury of Jewish tradition and learning has much to offer and that AA-style programs can be an invaluable ally for recovering Jews everywhere.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the moral of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry has [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.