Honoring the Life of Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski left a legacy that will not soon be forgotten. Since opening the doors of Gateway Rehab in 1972, Dr. Twerski paved a way for so many to achieve their recovery. Not only was Dr. Twerski a brilliant mind in the field of recovery, pioneering addiction treatment, but he also had an enormous amount of compassion. He regularly took time to personally talk to and get to know patients. He personally touched thousands of lives and families who have battled the disease of addiction. 

His vision, humor and commitment to helping those in need will be missed, but forever remembered. Gateway Rehab’s Board of Directors and staff will, in Dr. Twerski’s name, uphold his legacy and the organization’s mission created under his direction, to “help all those affected by addictive diseases to be healthy in body, mind and spirit.” 

Dr. Twerski’s life and work transformed so many people as they walked through their recovery journey. 

Lorraine W. explains Dr. Twerski’s impact on her life by sharing that, “{she} was traveling to California to say goodbye to my aunt who was dying of cancer. Walking to the gate for my flight I began to think about the wine offered on long flights. Then the ‘who would know’ whisper started. I held the thought and walked on toward the gate. Looking up on a phone to my left there was Dr. Twerski talking to someone. I was startled and my mind was stunned.  It was truly an AA miracle moment. Got out of obsessing about that glass of wine and was truly blown away by what had just happened.  Thank you, Dr. Twerski.

You gave me the light l needed in that dark moment 33 years ago.”

Mary C. was also greatly impacted by Dr. Twerski, “I am 27 years sober. I met him early in sobriety. I went to a Nurses off chemicals Mtg & he was guest speaker.

His talk planted a seed of hope inside me.

He spoke to some of us before leaving & I remember how compassionate & caring he was. I also went to a couple of conferences where he spoke. My condolences to his family. He was a great influence on a lot of us.”

He was able to impact so many due to the experience and knowledge he had about recovery. The knowledge he shared with patients and imparted on others working in the field has changed so many lives for the better. 

Mark S. shares that he, “{owes his} life to Gateway Rehab. He was a walking example of God’s will. I was captivated by his story about the lobster... it helps me when Im struggling. Something to be said about the pain / or uncomfortable feeling we go through in recovery!  My sponsor spoke of a couple personal experiences he had with the doctor. All good, he shared a signed copy of a book he had written. All little parts of my program... God love that man❤️ Mere words can't describe the gratitude I have for him regarding the times he gave his time, efforts and kind words on my behalf.”

The lobster story was one Dr. Twerski talked about a lot and was just one of the many stories he used to help others in their recovery journey. You can watch it here:  

Compassion was another characteristic Dr. Twerski embodied and is how many who knew him will forever remember him. 

Laura C., celebrating 32 years in recovery, shares that she, “was a patient at Gateway. I was terrified when I arrived and was put in detox just so they could keep eye on me as I was suicidal. Everyone treated me with kindness.  Second day Dr Twerski came into my room to talk with me about recovery and mental health.

He felt so kind and empathetic. I knew he cared about me and the other people in recovery.

I loved his Sunday afternoon lectures. I saw him a few years ago in Monroeville when an outpatient center opened, and he was the prime speaker. He wasn't an alcoholic or addict, but he sure understood us. I thanked him then for his help with my recovery.  He will be greatly missed!!! I will miss him."

Part of how Dr. Twerski cared for and treated his patients was by ensuring comprehensive treatment. Dr. Twerski saw his patients as people like him, in need of help. Incorporating a full continuum of care, addressing both the physical and behavioral health fundamentals of recovery, is part of what made his impact, and legacy, so great.

Barry Z. shares that he, “met Dr. Twerski around 1971. 

As a result of {meeting Dr. Twerski}, Gateway, & a 12 step program I’ve been clean & sober for 47 years and have a great life. It absolutely would have never happened without him.

He’s the person who handed me my daughter in the delivery room. He acknowledged my sobriety anniversary every single year. The last few years he asked me to acknowledge his birthday which I have. My family has been fortunate to be close to him. He called once & called my wife Joyce instead of Lois. She asked me if she should change her name to Joyce. Hes called her Lois Joyce for the last 40 years. I spoke at two Gateway Galas honoring him, one celebrating his 80th birthday. They were the honors of my life. I’ve never forgotten how blessed I was to have run into Dr. Twerski. We always said love you” when hanging up. Ill love Dr. Twerski forever.”

Ed R. also shared, saying, “What I admired about Abe was everyone was the same.  He wasn't better than you or me. He would call me up. We would talk, and in the end of our conversation he would ask when you are leaving. He wanted a ride to the airport; my response was always I will leave when you need me. Looking back to the many trips and the conversations we had to the airport were gold and I will never forget those moments we had. He will be missed but never forgotten.   I only wish I could have been half the man he was.”

While there are countless stories of how individuals were impacted by Dr. Twerski directly, even more have been, and continue to be, indirectly impacted by the legacy he leaves on the recovery community. He was a pioneer in the field of addiction treatment. 

Sharon E. worked for Gateway Rehab for 25 years, and knew Dr. Twerski well. She shared with us one instance of Dr. Twerski’s work and global impact.

“In 1995, we had the bounty to travel to Israel to see how Israelis were dealing with their drug problem. The backstory is that Abe, while building a retirement home in Israel, was engaged by the Prison Rehabilitation Authority, PRA, to help design a treatment system for addicted men leaving prison. Their recidivism rate was 80%. Abe worked with them, then invited them to send several social workers to Gateway, where each of them stayed 4-6 weeks. They were eager learners. Eighteen months after implementation of their treatment system, the recidivism rate for those who completed the treatment was down to 20%. They wanted to share what they were doing, so invited Abe to bring a group to see it. The group Abe assembled included Ken Ramsey, then CEO of Gateway, me, a Pittsburgh city councilman and his wife, and 3 recovering men, 2 of them with wives. We called ourselves the motley crew. 

The trip was memorable. Not only had they learned from us, they had gone past us. We learned from them. Abe took us to visit many programs and meet men in recovery. We were welcomed and met with affection. The most powerful insight during that trip was that addiction is addiction is addiction. Over and over we were with recovering Israeli addicts who related their stories of addiction and recovery in Hebrew. Abe or one of our volunteers translated. The recovering addicts in our group related their stories, which were translated into Hebrew. I was touched to the core. You could almost feel the shared goosebumps as we realized: The emotions were the same. The progression and consequences were the same. The effects on the family were the same. The steps required for recovery were the same. The joys of recovery were the same!

I kept a journal during that trip, which I typed up when we got home. Abe asked if he could read it… it was 21 pages long. On page 9 there was this paragraph: 'Somehow today helped me understand Abe – and his attachment here. He is able to be a guru-saint here in a way he once was but isn’t any more in Pittsburgh.’ Abe called me when he finished reading it. Here was his only comment: 'I am still a guru-saint in Pittsburgh.’ Obviously, he was right!”

Sharon E. was also able to give us insight into some of Dr. Twerski’s personality and humor- both of which were part of why he was loved by so many. 

“Abe Twerski. What a big spirit that man had! I want to share a few glimpses into him that are a little unique. 

I worked closely with Abe for 25 years. It was rewarding beyond belief and sometimes maddening. For example, that man so disliked conflict that whenever it developed, we had to make an appointment and trap him in his office so he couldn’t escape.

His ideas were often radical. For example, in 1974, he hired Dr. Gene Curley to be a physician at Gateway. He was 3 weeks sober. I protested. I lost. But eventually, long after Gene left Gateway to work elsewhere, I won, because Gene became my wonderful husband. 

In 1992, when Gene was in the ICU, a few days before his death, only Genes son and I could visit. However, I arrived there early one morning, and there was Abe, having talked his way into the ICU, engaged in lively, meaningful conversation with Gene. What a blessing.

After my retirement from Gateway in 1996, Abe stayed in touch by sending me jokes by email. I’ve saved them and treasure them still.”

Dr. Twerski will be missed by many, but his legacy will live on as his compassion, transformational care, innovation, knowledge, experience and comprehensive treatment continue not only at Gateway, but in much of the recovery community around the world. 

Thank you Dr. Twerski for

dedicating your life to helping others

find their recovery journey. 

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