Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Food Jewish Identity Home of Freud and…Pita? Israelis Make Culinary Mark in Vienna

    Home of Freud and…Pita? Israelis Make Culinary Mark in Vienna

    JNS.org – Several Viennese Jews have made a lasting impact on the world. Sigmund Freud’s investigations changed the face of modern psychology. Composer Arnold Schoenberg’s innovations in atonal music changed the face of music. These days, even more Jews — in particular, Israeli Jews — are changing the face of Vienna’s culinary scene with innovations in…the art of the pita. Freudians may find a psychoanalytic motive for the local appeal of the Israeli eateries popping up in the Austrian capital. Walk […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion In Iraqi Kurdistan, a Genocide Before Our Very Eyes

    In Iraqi Kurdistan, a Genocide Before Our Very Eyes

    The two bullet casings are already beginning to rust. Sheikh Nasser Pasha plucks them from the ground. “Look, one is from an AK-47, one from an American M-4.” The casings are strewn on the ground atop a long mound of dirt with a few bits of white sticks on it. It would appear unremarkable if one were walking by it. A closer look, however, reveals the white objects are pieces of human bone: arms, legs, and a single human skull. […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →