A Tribute to Rabbi Dr. Avraham J. Twerski zt”l
by Dr. Harold Kandler
It is hard to write an appreciation of somebody who has been a big part of my life for nearly 30 years. I would ask you to forgive any omissions or errors as this is being typed with a heavy heart.
Rabbi Twerski zt”l wrote: Why do we start each day with “Modeh Ani”, and have words with “Hodaa” as a root in our “tefillos”? It is because saying thank you eventually will lead you to the ultimate thanks that are due to “Hakodosh Baruch Hu.” It is to Him we must give thanks for sending us Rabbi Twerski.
Figuratively we met nearly 30 years ago in a bookshop in Golders Green in England. My wife and I were early for a meeting with friends. Being a lover of sefarim, I went into the seforim shop (“no such thing as killing time”). I noted a book called “Living Each Day”. I removed it from the shelf, looked in and thought “I can do this extra bit of learning every day”. Over 50 seforim later, the relationship continues. In those days there was no cover with a picture of Rabbi Twerski in it, so I had no idea what he looked like. When I first saw him, the kindly face just fitted so well with the writings.
I continued to expand the library (reading the seforim – not just buying them). I was struck by the Kedusha due to Rabbi Twerski’s yerusha, and the medical/scientific base which produced a world view.
A few years later, Rabbi Twerski came to England to give a lecture at the United Synagogue Encounter conference. I decided that I had to go to see and listen to him. The event was at the Institute of Education. Rabbi Twerski was allocated one of the classrooms in which to speak. I thought I would purposely miss the opening event so that I could get a good seat for his presentation. I made a good call. When Rabbi Twerski arrived, he had to fight his way to get to the small podium, so full was the room. Clearly, we knew something the organisers did not. It was the last time he was not given the auditorium.
When Rabbi Twerski came on another occasion to speak at Hampstead Shool, I was to go with my father z”l. I said we should leave early, so that I could park near the Shool to make life easier for my Dad. We got there and put our coats on chairs before going to daven Mincha and Maariv. When we returned, the hall was very full.
Afterwards my Dad asked Rabbi Twerski if he was related to a Rabbi Twerski, known as the Trisker Rebbe who lived in London in the 1940s. He said he was a distant relative, but in those days, communication abroad was not that easy.
My Dad always liked to have a sefer signed by the “mechaber”. To that end he had taken his copy of Living Each Day with. When he asked Rabbi Twerski to sign it, he said of course. However, when Rabi Twerski opened the cover, he saw it was signed “To Grandpa – Happy birthday, lots of love from Naomi, Debbie and Sara. Rabbi Twerski commented “What do you need me writing in this when you have your granddaughters?” He did sign it, and this is now the one that my daughter Naomi used for the WhatsApp group with a daily reading in memory of Rabbi Twerski zt”l.
When my Dad was niftar, we arranged a Mishna siyum for the Sheloshim. Rabbi Twerski’s seforim are usually my first port of call for a dvar Torah. There is no inclusion of the last Mishna in Uktzin in “Messages from the Mishna”. I emailed Rabbi Twerski for a dvar Torah and wrote about the previous story when my Dad met him. In less than 24 hours, I received a dvar Torah which I used at the sheloshim siyum.
So many of his teachings have impacted on my life and on the others, I have related them to people, both socially and professionally on very many occasions. To those who had not heard of Rabbi Twerski, in particular non-Jewish patients, I always introduced what I was going to say with a short biography of the Rav. His wise words were even more appreciated.
As I wrote to Rabbi Myers (Rabbi Twerski’s stepson-in-law), the advice of “competent professional”, has been used by me so many times to ensure friends and patients get the appropriate treatment/therapy. There are people whose lives have been saved because of Rabbi Twerski without him ever knowing. I have also seen the results of people who have not followed Rabbi Twerski’s advice.
Sadly, Rabbi Twerski’s last public visit to the UK was around 2005/2006. I had bought the book on engagements for my daughter and future son in law. During the evening Rabbi Twerski sat down and was “interviewed” rather than having to stand for the whole evening. He remarked that this might be his last visit, and so it proved to be. He also mentioned that he would keep in contact with people via writings and the internet.
After an event, people always stay on to ask questions. I make it a point to take the chance of an extra learning opportunity. Rabbi Twerski was asked what his favourite book was – he replied Living Each Day, but that he did not have a copy of every book he had written. I added that he would be most welcome to come home with me and see my collection of Rabbi Twerski seforim in the attic. He smiled, realising that I was referencing the “pancake story.”
It was so sad to read in “Growing up” that he was retiring due to health reasons, and he felt that “the well had run dry”. I wrote to him to say that I would be davening for him from then. It hurts to look in my Siddur and see his name there and he is no longer with us physically.
I have two daughters who live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. It was so exciting to hear that the Twerski family visited alternate Shabbatot. It became an ongoing joke, that whenever my wife and I visited, this was the Shabbat he was not here. Conversely my Mechutan would ring me when he visited from England and say, “Guess who I saw?”
I told this to Rabbi Myers and said how I would love to see Rabbi Twerski. He said I should write to Rabbi Twerski using a different email address from the one I had used. I did this after Shabbat and was thrilled to be called on Sunday morning by Rabbi Twerski inviting me to his home. I was ecstatic, and my family were so pleased for me. “Dad is going to meet one of his heroes”. It was a simcha for the whole family.
But here is the twist in the story showing Hashem’s hasgacha pratis. Usually, I walk my granddaughters to gan and then go to Shool. It depends on the time as to which of the local minyanim I go. That day, it was raining extremely hard and so we went by car rather than walk. Consequently, I went to “Aish Kodesh”. When I came out, I met my other granddaughter and took her to gan. I went back to that daughter’s flat first. That is when the call came from Rabbi Twerski inviting me to see him. I was expecting to be in my other daughters’ flat – which has virtually no mobile phone signal. To add to the story, I went to the mall in Beit Shemesh before taking the train to Yerushalayim. There was a big mural for a restaurant that was to be opening with a jacket potato – an allusion to the lesson on the microwaved potatoes story – “A shortcut is the quickest way to be where you do not want to be”.
It was an incredibly special moment in my life. I left on a spiritual high. We discussed many topics (I made a list before going and kept it). Rabbi Twerski said that “he was pleased to have made a contribution to peoples lives”. Before leaving. I asked if I could take a picture of him. He replied, “let’s take a selfie”. This picture has sat on bookcase since then and now resides with us in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
It is sad that I did not get the opportunity to see him again or hear the Neilah at Menorat Hamaor which members have told me of.
In several places, we read that tzadikim are alive even if they are not physically with us. This is so true of Rabbi Twerski. To this end, I have reopened Lights Along the Way – a sefer that I have signed. (The comment on time wasting guided me for appointments and the “smachot”, including our daughter’s weddings that we made).
May Rabbi Twerski’s memory be a as a blessing, and that he will act as “Melitz yosher “for us.