Photo Credit:
Rav Yisroel Avraham Stein

Her father-in-law, Rav Yaakov Yisrael Twerski, was an unusual person. Friendly with everyone, he welcomed all to his shul and spent many hours counseling people with a wide array of problems. He was so beloved that people from all stations of life – judges and local officials, rabbis and laypeople – attended his funeral.

For a period of time his son, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, was his assistant rabbi. As a result of all the counseling the senior Rabbi Twerski was doing, he encouraged Abraham to become a psychiatrist. However, it was Rabbi Michel, a psychologist, who eventually took over his father’s position.

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As the American Jewish community became increasingly assimilated in the decades following the Second World War, young Jews in particular were falling away from any semblance of religious observance. The Twerskis started Orthodox Perspective groups to acquaint young Jewish men and women with their heritage. A number of them became observant as a result of these early lectures.

At one point Rebbetzin Feige was asked to speak to a Federation group about Jewish life. She came with a prepared speech but took a look at the young women, all sitting around wearing jeans and looking at her expectantly, and she put it away.

“What is the essence of a human being?” she asked them. The women offered many suggestions but none was unique to man. Finally the women agreed with Rebbetzin Feige that the essence of a human is the spirit or soul.

Her next question was, “How much attention do you give to your soul?”

The women were shaken and wanted to know what they could do. Rebbetzin Feige advised them to study Judaism. They were eager to begin and asked her to teach them. So she started a study group and taught them Pirkei Avos.

“Why Pirkei Avos?” I asked.

Pirkei Avos,” she explained, “is totally non-threatening and the wisdom is true throughout the ages.”

Three generations of rabbanim in Milwaukee: Rav Michel, Rav Benzion and Rav Chaim

Gradually the women started to take on mitzvos but they wanted to get their husbands interested. So Rebbetzin Feige organized a group study session and invited her husband to speak. When Rabbi Michel walked in the husbands were shocked at his chassidic appearance and gave their wives a look. But what they were really unprepared for was the charismatic personality of the young American-born rabbi. He started off with a joke about the Brewers, the Milwaukee baseball team, and the ice was broke.

It didn’t take long for both husbands and wives to come under the spell of the team of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Twerski. Not only were these young couples starting to keep mitzvos, many of them moved from their affluent neighborhoods to be near the Twerskis and their shul. A newspaper editor came to do a story about the Twerskis, spent a Shabbos with them – and he too became Orthodox. Through their influence many second-generation children returned to live in Milwaukee and became Orthodox. Following in the Twerski tradition, the home of the rabbi and rebbetzin has always been open to everyone.

Rebbetzin Feige notes proudly that one of her sons and his family live nearby and that the son’s son (her grandson) and his family recently moved to Milwaukee as well.

Both Rabbi and Rebbetzin Twerski lecture all over the U.S. and abroad, and with their large family (the Twerskis have 11 children and numerous grandchildren) living in a wide range of locales, they travel quite a bit. But home is Milwaukee where their congregation, Beth Jehudah, and community always await their return.

I asked Rebbetzin Feige if speaking to groups had been difficult at first. She told me she learned from her father, who was a world-class speaker. “When he spoke, he could penetrate all hearts,” she said. And that is what she has been doing for many years now. Aside from her lectures, she writes a weekly column for Ami magazine and an occasional one for Binah magazine. Her writing career actually started with a column on Aish.com years ago. In addition to her magazine articles she has written two books, both published by ArtScroll: Ask the Rebbetzin and Rebbetzin Feige Responds. She also does counseling over the phone with callers from all over the world.

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Naomi Klass Mauer is the co-publisher of The Jewish Press.
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