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In the Jewish community of Milwaukee, a very prominent Orthodox Jewish family is the Twerski family. Abraham Joshua Twerski was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His parents were Devorah Leah (née Halberstam; 1900–1995), daughter of the second Rebbe of Bobov, and Rabbi Jacob Israel Twerski (1898–1973), who was the rabbi of Beth Jehudah synagogue in Milwaukee. The elder Rabbi Twerski immigrated to America in 1927, and was a descendant of Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twerski, the founder of the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty, and a student of the Baal Shem Tov. Twerski was the third of five brothers. His two older brothers were Shloime and Motel, and his two younger brothers were twins, Aaron and Michel. He attended public high school in Milwaukee, and graduated at age 16. He enrolled in the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago (now located in Skokie, Illinois) and was ordained a rabbi in 1951. He worked with his father as assistant rabbi. In 1952 he married Goldie Flusberg. In 1953 Twerski enrolled at Milwaukee's Marquette University, and subsequently graduated from its medical school in 1960. He received his psychiatric training at the University of Pittsburgh, and spent an additional two years on the staff of a state hospital in Pennsylvania. He was then asked to become the head of the department of psychiatry at Pittsburgh's St. Francis Hospital.
Rabbi Twerski's clinical career specialized in alcoholism and addiction. Much of his popular writing concerned self-improvement and ethical behavior. He merged mussar (Jewish ethics and morality movement) with the Twelve-Step Program and ideas from clinical psychology.
Andrew Heinze explains Rabbi Twerski's attraction to the Twelve Steps this way:
The significance of the religious dynamic in Alcoholics Anonymous was captured in Abraham Twerski's comment that he discovered in AA meetings the kind of sincere and even selfless fellow-feeling that was often absent from synagogues. He was moved by the example of men and women who would willingly be awakened in the middle of the night to go out and help a fellow alcoholic. Recovering alcoholics, Twerski observed, "will often exhibit a sense of responsibility far superior to that of the non-alcoholic in relationship to their families, friends, and God."
He was attracted as well by the pragmatism of the Twelve Steps.... [T]he AA system offered a practical non-analytic therapy that resonated with traditional Judaism much more than conventional psychoanalysis did. In treating addicts, Twerski discovered limitations of the psychoanalytic emphasis on understanding the origins of one's behavior. Patients would continue to drink while they inquired with their therapists into the possible reasons for their drinking. The Twelve Step program took the opposite approach, demanding that the person start his or her transformation by stopping the bad behavior. "There is an important similarity between the Torah approach to behavior and the Twelve Step program approach," Twerski realized.
Heinze gives the following example of how Rabbi Twerski introduced Twelve Steps, a movement with Christian origins, to the Jewish audience, which, according to Heinze, perceived alcohol addiction as a non-Jewish problem:
....Twerski cleverly presents the theme of alcoholism, not as a modern American phenomenon, but rather as part-and-parcel of rabbinic discourse. He refers to Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, who cites Midrash Tanhuma on the drunken man whose family escorts him to witness an obviously drunk and degraded man. To his family's dismay, he bends over the fallen man and whispers in his ear, "My good man, where did you get such fine wine?" To those who would claim that the problem of addictive behavior is secondary or even peripheral to the observant Jew, Twerski answers, "one cannot consider oneself to be truly observant if one neglects mussar." And for Twerski mussar entails dealing with "the psychological mechanism of denial [which] can blind a person to even the most obvious self-destructive behavior."
Rabbi Twerski's reinterpretation of mussar "depends fundamentally on psychological categories in spite of his rejection of psychoanalysis as a therapeutic tool." Heinze writes:
Much as it is impossible for a psychologist to ignore or overlook obvious psychological problems, so Twerski's training in the biochemistry of the brain inevitably led him to abandon the strict and often austere moral economy of traditional mussar. He cannot simply exhort, in the ancestral way, about human laziness. If a person seems incapacitated by depression, Twerski must investigate the possibility of a biochemical problem before resorting to the conventional prescription of mussar---the performance of mitzvot.
"In my earlier days of doing psychotherapy, treating persons with a negative self-image was most distressing," [Twerski] recalled, "I would become angry because it seemed to me that the patient preferred to wallow in the mire of his fantasied worthlessness." "The trick in therapy," he concluded, using the English equivalent of the word mussar employed (tachbulah) to describe both the evil urge and methods to defeat it, "is to remove the distortion" of view that hindered psychological and moral growth. Starting out with an old-fashioned moralism that emphasized the stubborn will as chief stumbling block to self-improvement, Twerski ended up with the premise that psychological blocks were essentially involuntary and therefore tantamount to physical disabilities, albeit ones subject to remedy.
Here is an INSPIRING story of how to deal with stress from Rabbi Twerski...
A bit heavy for Jokes, so here is an INSPIRING melody to follow up...
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