A Personal Memoriam: Dr. Yisrael Levitz
HaRav Avraham Yehoshua Hershel Twerski was buried the other night in the Eretz HaChaim cemetery in Beit Shemesh. He himself orchestrated the levaya, requesting that there be no eulogies (hespedim), and that his body be accompanied to the grave with the singing of “hoshia es amecha.” It is a famous nigun that few knew he had composed years ago. The melody of “hoshia es amecha” is so well known that it is sung wherever Jews come together to rejoice and celebrate. It is precisely because this nigun has brought so much joy to the hearts of so many Jews, that he wanted it to accompany him to his final resting place. So we sang and we cried.
When I rose early the next morning, I felt that the world was a little emptier. A special Jew who was a yachid B’doro (unique to his generation) was no longer with us. We are left bereft of a great Tsaddik, and a unique Torah personality. Rabbi Twerski was a Talmudic genius who received smicha at the age of 17. He used to correspond with the Steipler many years ago, and the Steipler thought so highly of him, that when Rav Twerski came to Eretz Yisrael for the first time the Steipler himself went to the airport to greet and welcome him.
He was a Kiddush Hashem, a priceless gem in the crown of our people, a devoted servant of God, and an inspiring teacher. He had world famous stature, and was a star on the Jewish horizon. In addition to being a Talmid Chacham, he was a Psychiatrist, and a prolific author of over sixty books read by world Jewry from Brooklyn to Bangkok. He was an inspiring teacher, and when he spoke from the podium he mesmerized his audiences, made them laugh at themselves, learn about themselves, and then inspired them to become better than who they were. Yet, despite his fame, he was a truly humble man, sweet, shy and self-effacing.
He was not afraid to speak out when he felt that there was a need for our community to recognize a problem. He was the first to call attention to the prevalence of Domestic Violence in the Orthodox community, nor did he fail to address issues related to addictions, alcoholism and drugs. He affected the lives of untold numbers of people.
One night after he spoke at Neve on behalf of The Family Institute, I walked him and Gail out to the parking lot. A large crowd of admirers followed respectfully behind us, and as he was about to get into his car, a woman who was unable to come any closer because of the crowd yelled out “Rabbi Twerski, thank you for giving me a reason to live after my daughter died.” Another voice called out “Rabbi Twerski, you saved my life. Thank you!” They were anonymous voices crying out on a dark night in the Neve parking lot, but they spoke for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who were inspired by his books, touched by his public talks, moved by his myriad videos, and who were grateful that Hashem had sent this special Tsaddik to assuage the pain of His people.
For Gail, his devoted wife, who never left his side, “Shia’s” loss leaves a deep chasm of unspeakable pain. For his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, he is irreplaceable, and for the Jewish world, his passing leaves us more impoverished.
On a personal level, his passing is the painful loss of a friend, a colleague, a model and an inspiration. I had the zchus of having worked with him, laughed with him, learned from him, and come to love him. תהי נשמתו צרורה בצרור החיים