By Yaakov Nadel, Co-Founder Guardyoureyes.com
At the turn of the millennium, I was a multimedia programmer for Davka corporation, creating computer games for Jewish children. My work necessitated access to the world wide web, and as a normal male, I found it a struggle to avoid inappropriate material. This was before the advent of internet filters, and the Jewish community still preferred to sweep the issue of the internet under the rug rather than address it. Jewish publications like Hamodia and Yated were forbidden from even mentioning the word internet in their articles and columns.
In order to keep myself strong, I developed a number of techniques which I found helpful. I began to see on various Jewish forums that I was not alone, and that a lot of very frum people were finding the internet to be a huge challenge. Many were simply throwing in the towel, believing it was a lost battle. I began sharing some of the methods that were helping me on these forums, and I started getting very good feedback. People began posting that they were inspired to give it another try, and started sharing their own strategies and attitudes that were helping them. This spurred me on to create a small website in the summer of 2007, where I began bringing together tips, advice and stories, so I could point people to a one-stop site where they could find inspiration and techniques. Incidentally, it’s interesting that I purchased the URL of the website on July 8, 2007 – only 9 days after the release of the very first smartphone (June 29, 2007). Perhaps Hashem had decided that as much as the internet had been a struggle until then, with the advent of the Smartphone we wouldn’t even stand a fighting chance; it was time to give Klal Yisrael some tools and support.
After I had posted a few pages of information on the site and began sharing the website on various forums, someone reached out by email suggesting that we begin a forum of our own, which he even offered to host. Once that went up, things really began to take off. Suddenly there was a place in the Jewish community for people to post anonymously about their struggles and share inspiration. Hundreds of people started posting, and over time it developed into a close knit community of support and camaraderie. People began asking for daily inspiration, so I decided to start sending out chizuk emails each day, which over time contained many inspiring posts from our forums. As more and more techniques and ideas were developed on the website and shared by the community, I compiled the GYE Handbookwhich was basically a range of strategies and attitudes, organized in progressive order, from the typical normal struggles all the way to full blown addiction.
It was around this time that Rabbi Twerski entered the picture. My parents had been fans of Rabbi Twerski’s books ever since I could remember, and I had also been close with one of his grandchildren while learning in the Yeshiva of Philadelphia in the 1990’s. I realized that as a Rabbi and a psychiatrist in one, Rabbi Twerski would likely be very helpful to our fledgling website. In Sept 2008, I reached out to him by phone and described the challenge that so many people were facing and told him about the website and forum that we had put together. He responded enthusiastically and confided that he had even considered a website once to help people with this but he said:
Initially, when I thought about this a long time ago, the question I had was, inasmuch as internet is involved in the problem, can you have someone go to the internet to deal with it? But I suppose there’s no choice, they’re going to go to the internet anyways.
After reviewing the website he responded:
There’s no question that this is an excellent place to refer to, I may even possibly make some contributions to it. I think that some of the guys in SA (Sexaholics Anonymous 12 Step groups) here have to know about this, I don’t know if they do. I will try to get the word around. Have a lot of Hatzalacha and I’ll try to and help in whichever way reasonably I can.
His policy in 2008 was not to give endorsements. A bit more than a year later, he shared with us that he was getting many calls about this issue and had nowhere to send them. He was excited that there was a place for people to get help and support. At that point, he agreed to send us a warm endorsement in Jan 2010 (see below):
Over the years, Rabbi Twerski sent us many articles that he wrote on the topic, and answered many sticky questions that came up. When my partner, Yechezkel Stelzer, joined me in 2010 and the website started to grow, we began fundraising so we could turn GYE into a really professional website with many tools and services. Rabbi Twerski graciously agreed to come speak at our first parlor meeting in September 2010 at the home of the well known askan and philanthropist R’ Avraham Wolfson. During his talk, he read a letter of a young man who had reached out to him for help and who ends his letter with the words “You are reading the last gasp of a drowning soul”. Rabbi Twerski said that he had nothing to answer this young man since GuardYourEyes wasn’t around yet. He stressed though, that when he gets a letter like this now, he finally has where to send people for help.
Once when we were in Toronto together with Rabbi Twerski in 2011 when he was already over 80 years old, he came with us in a snowstorm to meet with potential donors, and even joined us to knock on doors! He also came once to speak at a dinner in Monroe in the Chassidic community of Satmar, when we launched our Yiddish website in 2013.
Over time I became very close with him, and when he moved to Israel in 2015, I would visit him often. He would do literally anything he could to help our organization, picking up the phone to call potential donors, joining us on Skype meetings with donors, and speaking at various functions, despite his weakened state. In 2017 he put out a book called “Teshuvah & Recovery” which contained an entire section of writings by myself and other GuardYourEyes members. He wrote blessings and autographed tens of copies of the book for our donors, and was always available to answer questions that came up. He was exceedingly humble, and even consulted with us on various cases that came to him.
On my many visits to his Jerusalem home in Katamon, we shared divrei Torah and experiences, and he shared with me stories of his life. On a visit to him in Aug 2019, I asked him if he was still writing books. He told me that he used to write two books a year, but now he had to sweat bullets to write even one paragraph. He shared that he had written a few pages of a new book, but did not know what would develop and if he would manage to finish it. I asked him what the topic was and he said it was based on the Chassidic idea that we need to uplift the physical world and bring it into the spiritual realm. Indeed, this was his last book, and on my last visit to him in December 2020 with my partner, just a few weeks before he passed away, he told us that book he had been working on was finally coming out. He had called it “Talis & Tefillin, Bagels & Lox”, and he told us it was his 90th book, containing a hodgepodge of everything he remembered from the last 90 years. I believe that the topic of this book was no coincidence. Uplifting the physical to the spiritual was a microcosm of Rabbi Twerski’s entire life. I don’t know of anyone in our generation who merited to go so deep into the physical world, into the world of academia, medicine, psychology, and deal with the most broken people in society like addicts, yet uplift the entire world with him to the realm of the spiritual.
Rabbi Twerski was never afraid to speak out about issues that no one else wanted to address and were considered taboo, whether it was spousal abuse in the frum community, or addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, and towards the end of his life, the prevalent addiction to pornography. Having founded the Gateway Rehabilitation center in Pittsburg which helped thousands of alcoholics, Rabbi Twerski had a special affinity for helping people with addictions. But the only addiction Rabbi Twerski himself suffered from was, in his words, an addiction to writing books.
Indeed, on that last visit, he shared that he was actually working on his 91st book, which he said would be for bochurim who don’t know enough about our Gedolim from the previous generations. He wanted to put together a book with short chapters on many great personalities in an easy to read fashion, that would sum up the main character of these Gedolim in just a few pages. He even asked us for our help in researching these anecdotes and he mentioned that he had already submitted chapters on the Shagas Aryeh, Reb Yisrael Salant and the Chofetz Chaim. Unfortunately he passed away a few weeks later on Jan 31, 2021 (19 Shvat 5781) at the age of 90 and was never able to finish the book.
Rabbi Twerski was always there to help GYE until his final days. Only 6 weeks before his passing, he wrote a warm endorsement for a book we were putting out together with Dr. Shloimie Zimmerman about how to speak to our children about intimacy and kedusha struggles. In the endorsement, Rabbi Twerski compares the epidemic that our youth are forced to contend with today with the plague of Covid-19. He mentions that although a vaccine has recently come out for Covid-19, no vaccine was yet available for our youth. Unfortunately, Rabbi Twerski himself caught Covid-19 about a month after getting the first dose of the vaccine just before he was scheduled to get the second dose, and in his weakened state he didn’t pull through.
Although he often told me in his last years that his memory was “shot” and that he could no longer learn Gemara, his beautifully worded endorsement (see right) was a testimony that his mind stayed with him until the very end, as well as his and boundless dedication for the Klal.
Shortly after his passing, I compiled this book in his memory, which contains many articles and correspondence between Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD and myself, as well as with the members of the GuardYourEyes.com community.
It is my fervent hope that this book serve to inspire more people, to continue his legacy, and be a tribute to the memory of this great yet humble man that I am so grateful to have known.
Yaakov Nadel, Co-Founder